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The city adds some additional requirements that go beyond the model state code 

COURTESY PHOTO: CITY OF LAKE OSWEGO - The city of Lake Oswego cannot impose more stringent design standards for middle housing than it does for single-family homes.

A few weeks after changing its code for demolitions, Lake Oswego's housing policies will soon undergo a further facelift.

Due to state legislation designed to address the statewide housing crisis, the city has worked for the last two years to comply with new standards that require middle housing to be allowed in areas currently designed exclusively for single-family homes.

During a meeting Tuesday, May 17, the City Council voted to tentatively approve the new standards with a final version coming at the June 7 meeting.

Mandating widespread allowance

Builders will be able to develop middle housing — which includes duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, townhouses and cottage clusters — on all lots currently designed exclusively for single-family homes, unless a local homeowners association has policies within its code that were in place prior to 2020 and barred such housing types. The goal of the legislation, adopted in 2019, was to increase the housing supply region-wide and provide more affordable options for folks.

The city cannot enforce more onerous design standards or review processes for middle housing than it does for single-family homes. So minimum setbacks and maximum floor areas and height will be the same for middle housing as they are for single-family.

The city's wrinkles

However, the city has created its own rules that may limit middle housing to some degree.

Based on lot standards, the city essentially will not allow triplexes on lots smaller than 6,000 feet, nor quadplexes on lots smaller than 7,000 feet or duplexes for lots smaller than 3,375 feet.

Senior Planner Erik Olson explained that lot sizes essentially acted as a proxy for regulating density.

Olson also said one issue that came up during the public comment portion of the process was the aesthetic of garages and driveways for middle housing. Some ways the new code will address that issue include requiring that lots with less than 75 feet of frontage only have one driveway for duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes and require garage recessing of two feet.

"Proposed amendments go beyond minimum compliance to enhance existing single-family (and middle housing) garage appearance standards to better address the negative visual impacts of front-facing garages and driveways for middle housing," Olson said.

Cottage clusters

The city also established standards for cottage clusters, which are small homes surrounding one main courtyard area. Such developments must have between five and eight cottages, with no cottage exceeding 900 square feet for the first story. The courtyards must be landscaped and have walkways.

As for parking, the city will require one parking space per unit for middle housing. State law bars the city from requiring more spaces.

City Councilor Massene Mboup felt that the state policy leading to the code changes would not be beneficial to Lake Oswego, opining that it would lead only to more homes that are also expensive.

"It does not bring anything to the people of Lake Oswego. That's my feeling," he said.

Olson said the city could offer incentives and waivers for developers who build more affordable middle housing, if the council so chooses. He hoped the city found a happy medium between the minimum requirements the state provided and the concerns about middle housing from the community.

City Manager Martha Bennett said simply using the state's model code would have upset many Lake Oswego residents.

"The level of effort has produced a code where the folks who are most passionate about these issues feel they've been heard," she said.

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