Commissioners opt to keep ADUs in urban growth boundaries of incorporated cities

PAMPLIN MEDIA FILE PHOTO - Kol Peterson walks through the backyard of an ADU behind his home in Northeast Portland. ADUs will soon be allowed in all urban growth boundaries of Columbia County.Accessory dwelling units will soon be allowed in unincorporated areas of Columbia County, but only within urban growth boundaries.

Columbia County commissioners unanimously approved zoning ordinance changes and development standards for ADUs on Nov. 28, marking the first approval of criteria that will bring the county into compliance with Senate Bill 1051, which mandated counties with a population of 25,000 or more to allow ADUs within urban growth boundaries, or UGBs, as long as they comply with development standards.

The Senate bill was passed as a means of increasing Oregon's supply of affordable housing.

During initial consideration of ADU standards, a few residents urged commissioners to think beyond UGBs and expand the areas where the dwellings could be built.

When it came back for discussion the following month, commissioners and county staff weren't ready to open all rural areas to more housing density.

Columbia County planner Deb Jacob said the county's main priority was coming into compliance with new state laws. In the future, if the state legislature expanded its standards for allowing ADUs, the county could follow suit, Jacob said.

By limiting ADUs to areas identified for growth and possible future annexation into cities, property owners will have to comply with different building standards and rules, depending on which area of the county they live in. That means maximum square footage can range from 700 to 1,200 square feet, depending on whether you're in Clatskanie or Scappoose.

"The board had some concerns with the county imposing size limitations and owner occupancy requirements for properties that would be annexed into city limits and ... would be inconsistent with city requirements for ADUs," Jacob explained, noting the county's goal was to allow ADUs that would be compatible with the cities they may eventually get annexed into.

Carol St. Onge of Rainier asked commissioners to consider more uniform rules for ADUs.

"It seems to me that for the county, permitting and building or remodeling, seems like it would be beneficial to the county and residents to do it countywide instead of by city," St. Onge said. "It seems like it would be a nice way to put in a blanket maximum [size] for each, rather than by each city."

"Initially, I felt too, that we should have a countywide regulation," Commissioner Margaret Magruder noted, but said she later concluded that ADUs should be developed consistent with standards of cities they are closest to.

Commissioner Alex Tardif signaled support, but indicated he'd like to see more options for granny flats in the future.

"Overall, I think we've gotten to a good starting point," Tardif noted, but advised he felt the limitations on where ADUs could be developed was "a little unfair and inequitable."

"We need to start looking at how we meet the needs of our entire county outside the UGBs," Tardif said. "We do have a housing need and an aging population and we do have different family circumstances we should be able to meet in some way."

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