Accessory units, or 'granny flats' needed to increase county's availability of affordable housing

Code revisions allowing for accessory dwelling units, often called "granny flats," may be in the works for Columbia County.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is slated to consider an amendment to the county's zoning ordinance that would allow for ADUs, in an effort to make more affordable housing available.

The board is seeking public input during a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 17.

An ADU is defined as "a self-contained interior, attached or detached residential structure that is used in connection with, or accessory to a single family dwelling." PHOTO COURTESY OF 1,000 FRIENDS OF OREGON - An accessory dwelling unit in a Northeast Portland neighborhood. Columbia County commissioners are slated to consider a zoning amendment that would address and allow ADUs in Columbia County.

ADUs have gained traction in the Portland metro area, where housing costs are high and units are limited, but the county does not currently have provisions for the accessory units.

"The action is being taken after the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1051, as amended by House Bill 4034, which requires counties with populations larger than 15,000 to allow at least one ADU for each detached single-family dwelling in areas outside of city limits but inside Urban Growth Boundaries," a news release from Columbia County states.

The state measure is an attempt to address Oregon's housing crisis, which can also be felt in Columbia County. Realtors and social service agencies have reported a lack of available houses and rental units in the county.

In Oregon, data show only 25 available and affordable rental units for every 100 households at or below the low income threshold, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Columbia County planning commissioners have already started digging in to the county's zoning ordinance, as it relates to granny flats.

According to Karen Kane, a county spokeswoman, the Planning Commission reviewed the building ordinance in July and August, and made recommendations to the board of commissioners.

The commission recommended clarifying that a property owner may convert an existing dwelling unit into an ADU and build a new one, as long as both buildings meet minimum zoning requirements.

Planning commissioners also recommended capping out the size of ADUs at 1,200 square feet and not requiring property owners to occupy any of the units on the site.

"The lack of housing, particularly affordable housing, is affecting families in our growing county," Margaret Magruder, chair of the county's board of commissioners, stated in the release. "By amending our Zoning Ordinance, we can increase the type of housing that new and existing residents need immediately and into the future. I encourage residents to come speak to us at the hearing."

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