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St. Helens City Council approves lease agreement to develop 8-unit apartment complex made from shipping containers

CONCEPTUAL IMAGES COURESTY OF CARL COFFMAN - A conceptual drawing of the eight-unit housing development. Developer Carl Coffman proposed building these homes as an affordable housing option in St. Helens.An innovative concept to build homes out of repurposed shipping containers in St. Helens is one step closer to reality.

The St. Helens City Council approved a lease agreement with developer Carl Coffman on Wednesday, Aug. 15, which allows him to lease a portion of land at 245 7th St., just west of 6th Street Park, from the city to build an eight-unit apartment complex made from metal shipping containers.

The council voted 4-0 to approve the lease after several clarifications were added to identify price indexes for the apartments, and to include caveats about ensuring the development meets affordable housing standards. Councilor Keith Locke was absent.

Coffman, a Portland developer who also worked in St. Helens to restore the Muckle Building in 2013, pitched the concept to the City Council in January 2017. His idea was to develop homes of approximately 640 square feet out of stackable units, resulting in pod-like condo space.

The proposed complex is called "7th Street Container Lofts."

The St. Helens Planning Commission unanimously approved a conditional use permit for the apartments last July.

The lease agreement also outlines stipulations for residents of the complex to purchase, and not rent, the homes. When Coffman pitched the concept, he wanted to make the units affordable for would-be homeowners and is proposing the price range for each to be in the low $100,000 range. Each unit would be purchased by the occupant, not rented.

The lease was granted for 50 years with an option to renew twice for 50-year periods. At the end of 150 years, the city would have the option to continue the lease or sell the property for $10, a choice left up to a future St. Helens City Council, City Administrator John Walsh explained.

St. Helens resident Al Petersen raised concerns during a public hearing Wednesday night, Aug. 10, about that portion of the lease, arguing that if the city is providing an option to sell, it is required to do a formal appraisal on the property.

The city said the land was valued at $200,000, according to an evaluation by economic consultancy firm ECONorthwest.

Walsh added that the public-private partnership allows the city to remain the landowner while providing an avenue for development of affordable housing.

Coffman will not be required to make lease payments to the city while the units are being constructed, according to the lease agreement. After the units are built, the city will receive an annual lease payment of $8,160.

Coffman's homebuilding and design company is called Relevant Buildings.

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