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Senate to mull move that would give city, county more control

Cities and counties could choose to require builders to create below-market housing, in exchange for specified incentives for construction, under a bill that’s halfway through the Oregon Legislature.

House Bill 2564, which the House passed on a 34-25 vote April 14 and sent to the Senate, would remove Oregon’s 1999 ban on local governments approving what is known as “inclusionary zoning.”

But House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat from Portland and the bill’s floor manager, says the bill attaches conditions for local governments — such as Portland and Multnomah County — that may want to proceed.

No more than 30 percent of the housing units created by a new project could be offered at below-market rates, and local governments would have to provide builders with one or more incentives to do so.

Among the incentives are increased density, reductions or waivers of fees, preferential treatment for issuance of permits, expedited local approvals, and variances in height, floor area or other site-specific requirements.

“The goal is to allow flexibility at the local level and control the amounts that could be mandated through inclusionary zoning,” Kotek says.

“We are saying to local governments: Use it if you like, do it within these sideboards, and it’s up to you about how you apply it.”

The changes were suggested by the Oregon Home Builders Association, which still opposes the bill.

However, Jon Chandler, its lobbyist, said before the vote that some version acceptable to builders could be worked out in the Senate.

“There is probably a path to get something that matches up with what we can live with,” Chandler says. “We appreciate the effort that went into this version, but it’s not quite there.”

The home builders also opposed the original version, which simply lifted the ban that Chandler persuaded lawmakers to pass in 1999, when Republicans held majorities in both chambers.

“We are saying to the city of Portland — or whatever city — that they can tell somebody else (builders) how much we’re going to allow them to make a profit and then shift that profit to somebody else,” says Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn.

According to a 2007 study conducted for the National Association of Home Builders, which opposes inclusionary zoning, Oregon and Texas were the only states to ban local governments from doing so. Twenty other states either authorize it directly or indirectly, but the issue is mostly handled at the local level.

During a House committee hearing Feb. 23, statements in support of the bill were provided by Deborah Kafoury, Multnomah County chairwoman; Commissioner Dan Saltzman on behalf of the Portland City Council, and Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy.

The House vote fell mostly along party lines. One Democrat, Brian Clem of Salem, joined 24 Republicans against it. The other 34 Democrats voted for it, and one Republican was absent.

Democratic Rep. Paul Evans of Monmouth, a former city planning commissioner, councilor and mayor, says cities should have wider discretion in their housing policies that would be allowed under the bill.

“I also happen to believe that unless the conversation that has begun inside this building with this bill continues, a lot of communities won’t do a whole lot with this,” Evans says.

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