City OKs all the Oregon Zoo's remodeling plans

January 30, 2013 - 2:59pm
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Conditional-use plan will benefit animals, visitors and community, officials say

The City of Portland has granted land-use approval to the Oregon Zoo for improvements to be made across the zoo site over the next decade. The decision, which took effect Jan. 28, allows work to proceed on the full complement of zoo projects approved by metro-area voters in 2008. In all, these projects will transform nearly 40 percent of the zoo site.

"We're very grateful for this vote of confidence from City of Portland and equally grateful for the community's ongoing support," said Kim Smith, zoo director. "The zoo prides itself on doing the right thing — for the animals, of course, but also for our neighbors, for our visitors and for the entire community. The next 10 years should be among the most exciting in the zoo's 125-year history."

The Oregon Zoo, a service of Metro regional government, operates under a conditional-use permit issued by the City of Portland. Every 10 years, when the zoo updates its master plan, Metro submits a conditional-use application to the city. The city conducts a thorough evaluation of proposed new development, assessing potential impacts on and benefits to the surrounding area, including transportation, utilities, neighborhoods, Washington Park visitors and the greater community.

"A lot of careful project planning went into this application," Smith said. "The city's approval validates our work with residential neighbors and adjacent Washington Park attractions to solidify positive working relationships."

The zoo had previously submitted land-use applications for a few individual projects in advance of completing the full master plan, so that these projects could move to construction sooner. An update to the penguinarium's water-purification system was completed in December 2011, for example, and the zoo's new Veterinary Medical Center opened in January 2012.

And to advance progress on the largest project in the current list of improvements — the first in a complex construction timeline — the zoo submitted plans for its new Elephant Lands habitat to the city in November 2011. This dramatic expansion — encircling the entire eastern edge of the zoo and providing a variety of terrain, from rolling meadow to hilly forest — will quadruple the elephants' space and enhance their daily experiences.

The complex project also affects other areas of the zoo because it involves moving the zoo train and installing a road around the south and east sides of the grounds to accommodate construction traffic outside visitor paths. The city granted land-use approval for Elephant Lands, along with the zoo's new California condor habitat, last March. Preliminary construction activities are under way on both of these projects.

The remaining projects, to be completed over the next six to eight years, include a new conservation education facility and improved habitats for polar bears, primates and rhinos.

A 20-year master plan and schematic designs for the zoo's remaining bond-funded projects were completed and approved by the Metro Council in November 2011. The master plan was developed to support the following primary objectives:

  • Protect animal health and safety
  • Increase access to conservation education
  • Implement sustainability initiatives
  • Create a cohesive zoo campus.

The zoo's 20-year plan includes projects that are not yet funded. However, the zoo chose to consider the entire site holistically so infrastructure for future projects could be installed during the current construction.