Hearing draws criticism from some who say code doesn't address housing shortage

Some county residents say a development code amendment slated to be voted on by Columbia County commissioners doesn't go far enough in its attempt at increasing affordable housing.

During a public hearing Wednesday, Oct. 17, county commissioners reviewed proposed development code changes that would allow homeowners to build an extra living space on their property, either attached or detached, known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs.

Before the hearing, Columbia County planning commissioners reviewed the code, sending along suggested development standards to county commissioners for review. The exploration of ADUs, also called "granny flats," came in the wake of a 2017 Oregon Senate bill that mandated most cities and counties across Oregon to allow for the higher density development on a single lot, to ease the state's housing crisis.

The county's draft code would allow ADUs within urban growth boundaries, but not outside those areas.PHOTO COURTESY OF CITY OF ESTACADA - Accessory dwelling units, ADUs, could add more affordable housing in Columbia County.

"The problem in this county is there's not sufficient housing," Agnes Petersen told commissioners. "Now we're faced with the overflow that's coming from Multnomah County. If you adopt this without allowing it to go outside the urban growth boundaries, you have just left out the countryside around Yankton, Goble, Clatskanie ... Those citizens should be fairly represented by you in attempting to increase the livability outside the urban growth boundary."

Petersen and Linda Zahl of St. Helens pointed out that areas outside UGBs often have the property to develop ADUs, which accommodate lower income or disabled families, and elderly parents.

"Expanding ADUs outside the urban growth boundary allows more varied housing, for people who can't afford to buy [a house] out in the county, but they could afford to rent one from a family," Zahl said, noting UGBs typically already allow for higher density housing.SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Linda Zahl speaks to Columbia County commissioners during a public hearing Wednesday, Oct. 17.

"The city of St. Helens has the largest urban growth boundary, and it will be the most heavily impacted," Glen Higgins, planning manager with the county's Land Development Services department, noted.

The current draft of the ADU codes would cap the building size for new structures at 1,200 square feet, and wouldn't require the property owner to live onsite.

Higgins said requiring a property owner to live on site is "practically unenforceable."

That proposal didn't sit well with everyone.

"One of the reasons we moved here was because we like the rural feel of life outside the UGB," Maria Fenstermaker told commissioners. "That's just going to create more rentals, and we really wanted a more family atmosphere."

But a lack of available affordable rentals is what triggered the Senate bill in the first place.

After hearing public input, commissioners concurred they wanted more time to review the proposed standards. They opted to leave the record open for written comments, scheduling a follow-up work session on the afternoon of Nov. 7 and continuing the public hearing to Wednesday, Nov. 28.

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