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State agency will pay for consultant to complete the work with help from local officials throughout next year

CENTRAL OREGONIAN FILE PHOTO - Oregon's Department of Land Conservation and Development will ask its consultant to look at the amount of buildable land in Prineville.

The City of Prineville will soon compile information that will help the municipality better address local housing needs as the community grows into the future.

According to City Planning Director Josh Smith, Oregon's Department of Land Conservation and Development is hiring a consultant to conduct a housing needs analysis for certain communities. Smith applied to make the list, and the city was recently chosen for the work.

"It is not a direct grant to us," he explained. "They will cover the cost of bringing in the consultant to our community to do a buildable lands inventory and a housing needs analysis. That will basically be used to update our housing chapter in our comprehensive plan."

Smith said the two studies will help the city better understand what it can do to provide better access to buildable land and boost housing inventory.

"What we use that for is to justify urban growth expansions, justify code changes and those types of things," he said.

The housing chapter of the city's comprehensive plan has not been updated since 2007, Smith added, so this was something the city needed to do anyway.

"This is an opportunity for us to do it without any cost to the city, and it just so happens to align with some of our needs for the housing issues," he added.

For the past three years, housing inventory and rental vacancy in Prineville has either been low or essentially nonexistent. Some of this has been attributed to the hundreds of construction workers who have moved into the Prineville area to work on expansions to the Facebook and Apple data centers.

In response, the city revised a portion of its code in 2016, enabling developers to build temporary RV housing on light industrial land, provided it is built on property six acres or larger and not exceeding 100 housing spaces. The ordinance only allowed housing developments for projects valued at $10 million or more, and such developments will only be allowed for two years.

However, a developer could seek a zone change after the temporary housing approval expires, enabling them to build a permanent commercial structure or residential housing on the property.

Since that time, some developers have taken advantage of the option while other builders have begun to construct stick-built homes in various subdivisions.

An RV park opened on Combs Flat Road that provides 30 spaces, and another developer added a 12-unit, dormitory-style complex on North Main Street. In addition, Housing Works is about to open its 29-unit complex at the former Ochoco Elementary School and has plans to build a low-rent mobile home park off of Northeast Peters Road.

Smith said the city will soon sign a memorandum of understanding with DLCD, which will list what the consultant is going to do for the city and what the city is expected to do. He added that the first introductory staff meeting will take place no later than Nov. 30, and all work needs to be done by June 30.

"We are going to put together an advisory committee … that would be a sounding board," he said, adding that they would likely meet around four times and host one public open house. "At the end of the day, this will have to go through a public process to get adopted."

The process will likely involve a look at the current rental vacancy and housing inventory in Prineville, Smith said, but it should not be viewed as any sort of silver bullet.

"It is not a fix for the housing crisis by any means," he said, "but it gives us an idea how to move forward."

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