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Housing needs analysis proposes 60-foot building height in some areas; city currently caps height at 50 feet

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Scappoose city councilors and planning commissioners meet for a joint meeting to discuss the city's housing needs analysis, currently under development. Pictured: Planning Commissioner Rita Burnhard, Commissioner Bill Blank, Councilor Patrick Kessi and Commissioner Scott Jensen. It's no secret that Scappoose is growing up, and the city could get a lot taller if proposed building heights are increased.

The size of the city's future buildings wasn't much of a sticking point during a joint meeting between the Scappoose City Council and Planning Commission last Monday, Aug. 28, but it was easily one of the most significant proposed changes.

Some of the proposed revisions to housing and building codes were minor, while others upped the maximum building height for dwellings like multi-use apartment complexes, which could be built up to 60 feet tall in some areas.

Currently, the city caps its building height at 35 feet for buildings in residential zones and 50 feet for those in commercial zones. To accommodate more mixed-use buildings and drive more commercial growth in the city's downtown corridor, new multi-family buildings with businesses on the bottom floors could be up to 60 feet tall, as proposed in the latest draft of a housing needs analysis.

The housing analysis is being developed by ECONorthwest, the company working with the city to create a vision for future housing growth.

Buffers between residential and commercial areas could also be relaxed. The latest draft of the housing plan proposes to reduce the current buffer between residential and commercial zones to allow more housing. Commercial buildings within 50 feet of a residential zone would be limited to a 35-foot height. Scappoose currently requires commercial properties to be 100 feet away from homes.

City planner Laurie Oliver said the intent is to "create a visual buffer" between residential and commercial developments in moderate- to low-density areas.

"I expect for a while you'll have a few big buildings around town," Beth Goodman of ECONorthwest told councilors and commissioners. If new development is built at height capacity, it will seem like a stark contrast to what's already around the city, Goodman noted.

Some say they fear the buffers won't be enough to prevent privacy issues if five- or six-story apartment complexes are built on the same block as neighboring single-family homes.

Brain Rosenthal, a Scappoose resident with several commercial properties around the city, urged planners and councilors to consider the impacts of towering apartment blocks that reduce natural light and privacy of nearby single- or two-story homes.

Scappoose looks to Portland for inspiration

In discussions about how to liven up Scappoose's downtown area, with more pedestrian traffic and business growth, councilors and commissioners were enthusiastic about mixed-use buildings.

Using Portland as a comparison, councilors pointed to shopping districts on Mississippi Avenue and the city's trend of anchoring new apartment buildings on top of restaurants, coffee shops and other businesses.

"I drive all around and all over the Portland metro area and I just notice that the apartment buildings that have the mixed-use seem to add an immediate vibrancy to the areas, versus the buildings that are just straight apartments," Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge noted. "I'd really hate to see things just turn into apartments when we really need some commercial presence downtown."

Rosenthal cautioned putting too many residential buildings in a downtown overlay.

"There are some areas that are zoned commercial on the other side of the highway that I don't believe will ever be viable for commercial ... Maybe the best use for them is apartments," Rosenthal said. "If we don't protect the core, it will end up residential, because residential is more profit-

able than commercial right now."

But the catalyst for the housing study was to find out how and where the city should add more affordable homes.

One solution commissioners and councilors have embraced is cottage housing, which clusters smaller homes in an area, usually with an open space feature to anchor the development. Cottage homes could be perfect for retired seniors or first-time home buyers without families.

Town homes with live-work spaces were also explored as solutions for more varied types of housing.

After more than two hours of discussion, city staff suggest-ed allowing for more public input before adopting any changes to the city's development codes.

Oliver suggested a public open house workshop, sometime in October, before the plan's adoption the following month.

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