Project Experience & Qualifications

In a professional planning career spanning over 40 years, most of it in  Portland, Oregon, John has made professional and leadership  contributions to the City, the region and throughout the state during  three decades of unprecedented growth and change. John’s major accomplishments can be described as:

John  has made significant contributions to the planning, design and  development of Portland’s Central City districts, and has helped make  Portland, particularly the Central City, a model for urban compact  mixed-use development, high quality pedestrian environments, green  building and infrastructure, multi-modal transportation systems,  affordable housing and great urban design.

John  has advanced the art and science of design review and the importance of  urban design in Portland and other cities, through development of  form-based implementation tools and policies. He  has also contributed to the quality of life of the City by serving for  eleven years on the Portland Design Commission and other urban design  boards.

In  1995, Metro, the Portland area Regional Government, adopted the 2040  Growth Concept to guide development over the coming decades. The  growth Concept identified more than three dozen centers across the  region as the focus for redevelopment, multi-modal transportation and  concentrations of homes and jobs.

In  Regional Centers and TOD Districts throughout the Portland Metro Area,  John’s contributions have helped implement the 2040 Growth Concept by  integrated multi-modal transportation systems with high-density  pedestrian oriented development.

John’s  interest in and commitment to downtowns and neighborhood centers extend  to smaller cities and towns throughout the Northwest. He  has prepared a number of downtown revitalization plans, has helped  implement revitalization efforts by forming urban renewal districts to  finance needed improvements, and has served as a long-term board member  for the Oregon Downtown Development Association and Livable Oregon.

Creating an Urban Design Fabric in Central City Districts

Portland  has adopted an urban design vision for the Central City that emphasizes  livable, walkable, urban districts that focus on the Willamette River. The  compact human scale of central Portland’s 200’ X 200’ blocks helps  create an environment where the pedestrian is a priority, and the City’s  historical design emphasis on the quality of the public realm rather  than private spaces and iconic architecture, has resulted in an urban  design fabric that is admired both nationally and internationally.

Portland  is also a model for innovative multi-modal transportation planning  designed to serve existing districts and stimulate high density  pedestrian oriented development. Investments  in light rail and streetcar have supported economic vitality, reduced  reliance on the automobile and are integral to Portland’s character and  image as a people friendly, livable, vibrant place. Portland  is also a leader in all aspects of sustainability, particularly during  the last decade for its efforts to reduce the city’s carbon footprint,  investments in green infrastructure, and for the large number of LEED  certified buildings constructed here.

John’s contributions to the creation of four new central city districts are described below. He  served as project manager and principal planner for major planning  efforts for the last few largely undeveloped areas in or adjacent to the Central  City. There of these  neighborhoods, the Pearl District, NW Slabtown District and South Waterfront District, are  well into development and have seen significant public investments in  parks, greenways, streetcar, aerial tram and green infrastructure. Private  developments in the South Waterfront District alone have led to  hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and have created over  2,500 housing units and a 500,000 square feet medical facility. New  development has secured one platinum, 5 gold and 1 silver LEED ratings,  and the first central area phas achieved a LEED-ND gold  rating. John’s current  assignment is to develop a Master Development Plan for an 18 acre area  surrounding the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry; improving the riverfront along a quarter mile frontage, maximizing development at LRT and streetcar station areas, and creating a sustainable district that furthers the aspirations of the Museum.

John  has also had a significant role in establishing urban design policy for  the entire Central cCty and applying that policy as a long-term member  of the Portland Design Commission where he served six years a chair. Under  his leadership the Design Commission developed design guidelines for a  number of design districts, and applied these guidelines as the  quasi-judicial decision maker for numerous public and private development projects.

OMSI Master Development Plan, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, Portland, Oregon (2016-Present)

OMSI commissioned a design team headed by Snohetta Architects with Spencer Consultants as the lead urban design/planner, to create a development plan for its 18 acre campus located along the Willamette River.  The campus  is the heart of an emerging innovation district where scientists, makers, artisans, engineers and inventors from diverse backgrounds and cultures live, work and play.

The urban design framework is based on 5 principles:

  • Neighbors-fostering partnerships for neighbors and future tenants
  • Fronts-responding to existing site adjacencies
  • Circulation-organizing the campus along 3 dynamic north-south spines
  • Cross Connections-a green network that stitches the campus to the river and expands public space on the river
  • Development-promote development that activates the ground plane, reinforces adjacent uses and respects the presence of OMSI

The Plan identifies themes and design elements that unify the district and create a campus environment focused on OMSI.  Design elements include streets, sidewalks and pedestrian accessways; street furnishing and landscaping; the Willamette Riverfront and associated open spaces; storm water management features; smaller public spaces and squares; and building massing and design for 2M SF of development.  A parking strategy anticipating automated parking, higher use of driverless vehicles, and future transition of parking decks to active uses is integral to the plan.

Con-way Properties EcoDistrict Master Development Plan, Con-way International, Portland, Oregon (2007-2013)

Con-way owns approximately 20 acres in the northern portion of NW Portland adjacent to the Pearl District. The  company currently has over 1,000 employees at this location and  controls 20 acres, 15 of which are surface parking or underdeveloped. John lead a master development plan team charged with preparing an EcoDistrict plan for the area. 

A  framework concept for EcoDistricts is currently being developed for the  Portland Metro area, and the Con-way master plan is an early pilot  project. An EcoDistrict is a neighborhood that generates all its energy  from on-site renewable, collects and recycles rainwater and waste, and  prioritizes pedestrian, bike and transit access. It  combines mixed use, mixed income development; neighborhood scale parks,  schools, community centers; and services, and enhanced IT  infrastructure. Principles from LEED-ND, New Urbanism and Smart Growth are incorporated into EcoDistricts.

Major  issues are to accommodate structured parking for employees; create  place-making urban design, parks and open space elements; provide for a  wide range of housing types suitable for all income levels; and extend  transit service, notably streetcar, into the area. Efforts  to develop public/private partnerships with the city, create a new  urban renewal district, accommodate higher densities and building  heights than are currently allowed, establish district-wide  sustainability excellence, and extend the Portland Streetcar are major  plan elements. John has helped  assess the feasibility of a district-wide energy facility which could  provide power, heating and cooling to this and adjacent central city  districts.

Hoyt Yards Master Development Plan. Hoyt Street Properties, Portland, Oregon (2005-2007)

Development  of Hoyt Street Properties’ 34 acres in Portland’s Pearl District has  been taking place over the past decade with nine separate projects  totaling approximately 2,000 housing units and over 90,000 square feet  of retail uses. Two public parks and Portland Streetcar now serve the district. 

John was asked to develop a master plan for the remaining Hoyt Street Properties’ holdings totaling 13 city blocks. The plan addresses block by block building uses, massing, street-level design, streetscape and open space. District-wide  principles for architectural character and place making elements are  designed to give this district a unique character. Relationships to a new city park, Naito Parkway and redevelopment of Centennial Mills and the riverfront are included. 

An urban design framework plan and implementation strategies were also developed. The  development program calls for 1,700 residential units of which 280 will  meet affordability criteria, 450,000 square feet of retail and  employment uses and 265,000 square feet of hospitality and recreation  uses.

An  important element of the Hoyt Yards Plan was the extension of the  neighborhood park system through the site to the Willamette riverfront. John  helped negotiate land sales, dedications and right-of-way transfers so  that a previously conceived neighborhood park could be significantly  expanded. The park is currently in the master plan stage, and full entitlements have been adopted by the City.

North Macadam (South Waterfront) Development Framework Plan, Portland Development Commission, Portland, Oregon (1998-2001) 

The North Macadam area was a largely vacant brownfield site along the Willamette River just south of Downtown Portland. John  was asked by the development agency to formulate a technical and public  planning process designed to create a framework plan and implementation  strategy for a 21st Century urban neighborhood. His role was as project manager for the North Macadam Development Framework Plan, a 130 acre mixed-use development project where he acted as the client representative to a large consulting team. He  managed a high level policy and technical review effort involving  developers, property owners, neighborhood and city leaders, and regional  partners. 

The  framework plan provides for 10,000 jobs, 3,000-5,000 housing units,  riverfront park and extensive auto, pedestrian and transit improvements.  John managed a large steering committee and six work groups to complete  technical work, develop policy and address sensitive issues. During the  planning effort, an endangered species listing by the Federal  Government completely altered how the riverbank and greenway areas  should be treated. Other issues  included lack of roadway improvements and other infrastructure, transit  access, affordable housing and jobs strategies, and overall urban  design. Campus expansion for  the area’s largest employer, Oregon Health Sciences University was a  plan element and connection between campuses was achieved via an aerial  tram. Streetcar service was also extended into the area.

In  order to implement the Framework Plan, John worked with PDC staff and  an advisory committee to prepare an urban renewal plan and report. He  developed facilities plans and improvement strategies designed to  implement the Framework Plan, including funding priorities for $260  million of tax increment revenues.

John also led the development of a number of implementation programs designed to further the Framework Plan. Specific activities included:

  • Amendments  to the Central City Plan, Portland Zoning Code and North Macadam  District Design Guidelines which address all aspects of development  density, use, height, building orientation and design. 
  • Incentives for green building and sustainability practices. 
  • Transit,  Transportation Demand and Parking Strategy that outlines a transit and  TDM service strategy and related parking requirements that are tied to  transit service levels. 
  • Willamette  Greenway Program and Public-Private Implementation Program that defines  specific visions and design programs for the greenway, and identifies  partnership recommendations for greenway design, ownership and  maintenance. 
  • Agreements  among City bureaus on sustainability practices that have now been  applied citywide, including green street design standards, stormwater  management practices and shared public/private maintenance  responsibilities. 
  • Framework for public/private development agreements. 

Portland Design Commission, City of Portland, Oregon (1989-1999)

John  was appointed to the Design Commission by the Mayor of Portland and  served for 11 years, 6 years in the capacity of Commission Chair. The  Design Commission reviews and makes approval decisions on major public  and private projects proposed within designated design districts. The Commission is also responsible for preparing and adopting design guidelines for each design district. Design guidelines aid architects and developers in understanding the city’s urban design expectations. The Design Commission review process ensures that these expectations are met.

Over  his 11-year tenure, John helped analyze and provide urban design  direction for a wide variety of major development projects within the  Central City, including Pioneer Place, Federal Courthouse Building,  Downtown Office Buildings, PSU Urban Studies and Library Buildings,  Pearl District Housing Projects, Lloyd Center Redevelopment, Rose  Quarter and Rose Garden. The Design Commission was also the approval authority for Westside LRT and the Downtown Portland Streetcar. Through  his role as Chair of the Portland Design Commission, John helped  develop and approve design guidelines and design standards for all  design districts within the city. 

Building a Region by Applying Smart Growth & Sustainability Practices

Metro,  the only elected regional government in the United States adopted the  2040 Growth Concept in 1995 in order to maintain the Portland region’s  connections with nature, preserve existing neighborhoods, strengthen  employment areas, and concentrate growth in designated centers and  corridors. John has assisted a  number of cities throughout the region to develop plans and  implementation strategies for compact, vibrant, mixed-use centers. 

Development  in centers is important not only for the economic development potential  they represent but because these new high density residential and  business neighborhoods are one of the ways our region will reduce  pressure to expand the urban growth boundary. As one colleague notes: “John  was our most effective advocate for solid planning and smart growth  principals-including long before anyone was talking about Smart Growth.”

John has had an impact on the quality of centers and the contributions centers make to the life of local communities. He  led the preparation of the first Regional Center Plan, Gresham Civic  Neighborhood, which included the first mixed-use district adopted by a  suburban City and the first to establish minimum densities and FAR in  support of transit ridership and urban vitality. The  plan considered market viability and developer risk, and when it was  apparent there was a “gap” in financial feasibility; John developed a  public/private financing plan and development agreement. The  result was construction of about 600 residential units and over 500,000  square feet of commercial and office space as well as regional  commitments for main street improvements and a new LRT station.

John  has helped formulate legislation and implement tax exemption tools  designed to stimulate multiple unit housing and vertical mixed use  developments in centers and near LRT stations. He has worked with Metro to help educate and apply these tools to cities throughout the region. John  is currently serving on an expert advisory panel convened by the  Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, Portland State University  charged with formulating recommendations for how the Portland region  might encourage and accelerate development of mixed use centers and  corridors over the next decade and beyond.

Many  of the projects described here use smart growth and sustainability  principles as a structure for planning new neighborhoods. John has a working knowledge of LEED and LEED-ND criteria, the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s Draft Sustainable Community Development Code and the Code Barriers to the Living Building Challenge Report by the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and Sustainable Alternatives Consulting. John has also applied the principles of EcoDistricts, Portland+Oregon Sustainability Institute in a real-life case study setting. He  has applied this knowledge to plans and development projects he has  been responsible for that have achieved LEED-ND gold and platinum  certifications. He has also been a participant in a number of trainings and workshops focused on sustainability.

Some examples of assignments where John served as project manager and principal planner include:

Downtown Gresham Regional Center Development Strategy, City of Gresham (2007-08)

Over  the past 10 years, urban-scale mixed use development and redevelopment  has occurred throughout the Metro area, but several older downtown  areas, including downtown Gresham, have not attracted much development  despite designation as a Regional Center. John  headed a team that highlighted the barriers to achieving desired  development types, created a development vision based on utilizing the  MAX LRT service in the area, and established an implementation strategy  to better position downtown Gresham for private investment. Specific recommendations for changes to zoning and design standards in support of mixed use development were adopted. New public and private investments, including a fine arts plaza and streetscape improvements are underway.

Beaverton Courtyard Housing Project, City of Beaverton, Oregon (2010)

Courtyard  housing, small single family dwellings focused on common greens or  shared courts, are an emerging housing typology that can achieve  relatively high densities and contribute to sustainability. John  helped assess the viability of this housing type within moderate and  high density mixed use zones in the City, and prepared plan and  development code amendments to enable courtyard housing in districts  where it was originally prohibited. All amendments to the development code and design review standards were approved.

Beaverton Open Space Standards Project, City of Beaverton, Oregon (2008)

John  worked closely with the Beaverton Planning Commission and staff to  evaluate the effectiveness of open space standards in multi-family zones  to meet density, design and sustainability objectives. A  comparison of standards from a number of other jurisdictions resulted  in comprehensive amendments to the development code that simplified open  space standards, reflected a more urban form of development, and  accounted for a variety of housing types and ownership options.

Beaverton Design Review Program, City of Beaverton, Oregon (2002-2005)
This project recommends wholesale revisions to the City’s design review process, decision-making, and design standards. An  entirely new set of design review standards and guidelines, approval  procedures and processes were developed by John, based on direct  approval if design review standards were met, with options for  quasi-judicial approval for meeting design guidelines. Design  standards and guidelines address building design and orientation,  circulation and parking, landscape, open space and environmental design,  and lighting. Design review is  focused in regional and town centers, and in commercial, industrial,  and higher density districts throughout the city. A Handbook was also prepared by John for use by applicants, neighborhood associations and other stakeholders.

Washington Square Regional Center Plan and Phase II Implementation, City of Tigard, Oregon (1998-2002)

John  served as project manager and head of a multi-disciplinary consulting  team to prepare a development plan for this 1,250-acre regional center,  focused on the Washington Square Mall. Primary issues included roadway  and transit service, retrofitting an existing regional shopping center,  infill and redevelopment, and environmental protection and enhancement  of Fanno and Ash Creeks affected by recent ESA listings. He prepared a new Comprehensive Plan element and mixed-use development code and design standards adopted for the area.

John  was also asked to develop analysis and recommendations to address five  specific issues raised by the Tigard City Council during approval of the  Regional Center Plan. He developed amendments to development code and design guidelines to reflect this additional analysis. Issue areas addressed included:

  • Fatal flaw analysis of major transportation improvement recommendations, 
  • Evaluation of the adequacy of natural resource protection regulations. 
  • Identification of a stormwater quantity and quality management strategy. 
  • Defined recommendations for greenbelt, open space and parks improvements. 
  • Developed  a financial strategy to address the short and long-term needs of the  area, including priorities for a $160 million improvement program. 

Beaverton Regional Center-Development Regulations, City of Beaverton, Oregon (1998-1999)

John  was asked by the Mayor of Beaverton to conduct a review and negotiate  revisions to draft mixed-use development regulations proposed for the  Beaverton Regional Center. Major  property owners, business owners, Planning Commission and City Council  members along with senior City staff were consulted, and a wide range of  amendments were developed to address concerns. The City adopted the final regulatory package.

Beaverton Creek Transit Oriented Development, City of Beaverton, Oregon (1998-1999)

As  liaison between the developers and major property owners involved­ed  with the 130-acre Beaverton Creek TOD, John prepared Comprehensive Plan  and development ordinance amendments for new multiple use districts and  staff reports for consideration by the City. John  worked closely with developers and the City of Beaverton in securing  development permits for approximately 600 units of high and medium  density housing, as well as a park-and-ride facility.

Gresham Civic Neighborhood Plan, City of Gresham Oregon (1995-2000)

John  served as project manager on behalf of the City and oversaw preparation  of a master plan and implementation strat­egy for a 130-acre transit  oriented development in Gresham. The essential features of the plan  include:

  • Establishing a public street grid which favors safe and efficient access,
  • Creating small parcels that will result in pedestrian-oriented development,
  • Adopting new mixed-use zones that require minimum densities and FAR near LRT stations,
  • Requiring building orientation and use resulting in urban streets with pedestrian activity,
  • Establishing public spaces to enhance the public realm.

He  developed the implementation and financing strategy for the public  component of the project, and negotiated a City/property owner agreement  that included­ed $11 million in funding for infrastructure  improve­ments and a residential tax abate­ment program to assist  multi-fam­ily dwellings. John provided on-going planning and urban  design services to the City and the primary property owners/developers  active in the Civic Neighborhood. His  role was to review and analyze development plans, recommend revisions  to better meet the objectives of the Civic Neighborhood, and secure  amendments to the development code as warranted.

LaPlata County Land Use & Transit Strategy, LaPlata County, CO. (2009). 

Mr.  Spencer teamed with a transit planner to develop an integrated land  use/transportation and transit plan. This plan proposed smart growth  strategies that support increased walking, biking and transit  opportunities. Based on the designation of growth nodes and corridors,  the plan proposed a county wide transit system that will efficiency  serve these population/employment nodes.

Revitalizing Downtowns and Centers

Downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts are often seen as the “heart” of local communities. John  has been involved in many efforts to help revitalize, develop and  promote downtowns as economic, historic, civic and cultural centers. In  1983, John was asked to join the Board of Directors of the Oregon  Downtown Development Association whose mission is to bring the  principles of the Main Street Program to Oregon’s smaller cities. John  served on the board for over twelve years, was actively involved as a  resource team member for dozens of downtowns, and served as a speaker  and panel member during ODDA’s annual conferences. John  also helped found and served on the board of Livable Oregon, a  non-profit advancing smart growth principles throughout the state. He chaired committees leading to:

  • Oregon’s Quality Development Objectives,
  • Governor’s Livability Awards,
  • Oregon Livability Conference, and
  • Oregon Good Development Partnership.

John’s professional practice also included preparing downtown revitalization and implementation plans. Along with his partner, Charles Kupper, he authored urban renewal plans in over 30 Oregon communities in order to utilize urban renewal as a primary implementation tool for downtown revitalization and economic development. 

Project examples emphasizing downtown revitalization where John served as project manager and principle planner include:

Lower River Road Corridor Concept Plan, City of Eugene, OR (2006-2009). 

John  headed this project that reached agreement among a number of  stakeholders on an integrated program of design improvements on River  Road, a major arterial street connecting to downtown Eugene, and a  planning framework to guide surrounding development and redevelopment  into a pedestrian and transit-friendly higher density Mixed Use Center.  Concepts considered include a Multi-way Boulevard and EmX improvements. 

Grants Pass Downtown Riverfront Plan, City of Grants Pass, Oregon (2007-08)

Historic  Downtown Grants Pass developed around a railroad station not the scenic  Rogue River that flows less than a mile south of the CBD. The  Downtown Riverfront Plan connects the historic center of Grants Pass to  the river and to the city’s premier park also along the Rogue. The  plan emphasizes compact, pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development  along a state highway couplet, enhancements and expansion of Riverside  Park, and redevelopment of lands south of the river to take advantage of  the river location. Extensive  traffic and pedestrian studies resulted in a number of transportation  and streetscape recommendations designed to ease traffic and improve  pedestrian access and safety. Adding close-in housing was another important plan element. A financing and implementation strategy sets out an action plan for project success.

Downtown Stayton Transportation & Revitalization Plan, City of Stayton, Oregon (2007)

Like many downtowns, Stayton has a nice collection of late 19th century buildings in need of improvement and is overlooked as a significant retail, office or residential area. The revitalization strategy is based on extensive market analysis, opportunities and needs assessment and public involvement. Elements of the strategy include: concentrating  commercial development in a single compact area; providing for more  mixed use and housing; locating a new civic center in the area;  redeveloping a former woolen mill site for high density housing; and  providing streetscape, infrastructure and parking improvements. A  business development plan aimed at business recruitment and marketing  and formation of an urban renewal district are key implementation  actions. New zoning districts and design standards and guidelines were developed specifically for the downtown area.

Oregon Downtown Development Association and Livable Oregon, Board of Directors, (1983-1995)

John  joined the ODDA Board of Directors shortly after the non-profit was  formed to advocate and advance the principles of the National Main  Street program throughout Oregon. He  served on a number of committees and the executive board and helped  grow the organization to one of the most effective in the country. He participated in many resource teams throughout the Northwest to assess and make recommendations for downtown revitalization. John  was also a founding board member of Livable Oregon, a companion  non-profit to ODDA formed to advance smart growth practices within the  state.

Focusing on Practical Implementation Tools & Management

For  the past 40 years, the firm has assisted over 30 Oregon communities in  utilizing urban renewal as a primary implementation tool for central  area revitalization and economic development. Urban  renewal plans authorize tax increment financing, which has been used to  finance a wide range of revitalization programs including pedestrian,  transportation and infrastructure improvements, building rehabilitation,  housing assistance and construction, land assembly and disposition for  development and redevelopment, and marketing activities among others. John  and his former partner Charles Kupper have prepared urban renewal plans  and reports, feasibility studies and substantial plan amendments. We  have also acted as urban renewal advisors to Agencies and City Councils  for tax increment bond financing and underwriting, developer  negotiations, land acquisition/disposition, project design and construction and urban renewal program management.

In  urban renewal planning, John has been responsible for analyzing the  physical conditions within potential boundaries for compliance with  blighting condition findings in ORS 457, analyzing development and  redevelopment opportunities within potential urban renewal boundaries,  and identifying needed infrastructure and other project activities  eligible for tax increment financing. John has also been the lead in agency and public outreach activities associated with urban renewal planning. 

The  list below summarizes John Spencer‘s urban renewal experience preparing  urban renewal plans and reports, feasibility studies and substantial  plan amendments. 


Urban Renewal Plans 

City of Stayton Urban Renewal Plan 

City of Tillamook Urban Renewal Plan

City of Portland - North Macadam Area Urban Renewal Plan

City of Salem – W. Salem Urban Renewal Plan

City of Redmond- Airport Industrial Area Renewal Plan 

City of Redmond- Downtown Renewal Plan 

City of Astoria – Astor West Urban Renewal Plan 

City of Sherwood – Urban Renewal Plan

City of Woodburn – Urban Renewal Plan

City of Seaside - Greater Seaside Urban Renewal Plan 

City of Cottage Grove- Row River Road Renewal Plan 

City of Keizer- North River Road Renewal Plan

City of Harrisburg- Harrisburg Industrial Area Renewal Plan

City of Oregon City- Downtown/North End Renewal Plan

City of Oregon City- Hilltop Renewal Plan 

City of Gladstone- Gladstone Renewal Plan

Urban Renewal Feasibility Studies

Downtown Gresham Regional Center – Urban Renewal Feasibility study

Grants Pass Downtown Riverfront Plan – Urban Renewal Feasibility Study

City of Stayton – Urban Renewal Feasibility Study

City of Portland – Urban Renewal Feasibility Study for the Con-way Properties