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As Woodburn sees more developers interested in building apartment houses, planners take a step toward ensuring availability of commercial lands

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Woodburn has seen an uptick in multi-family housing development in recent years.Interest in building apartment houses and condominiums in Woodburn has been strong enough of late that the city is taking steps to ensure commercial land is not compromised.

That is the intent of an amendment to Woodburn Development Ordinance (WDO) recommended by city planners and recently given a nod by the Woodburn City Council.

Woodburn Community Development Director Chris Kerr pointed out that WDO was altered in 2013 to allow multi-family development in areas zoned for commercial general use. That alteration defined multi-family construction as a "permitted use," which limits the extent to which governing bodies, such as the city council or city planning commission, can guide, regulate or oversee such construction.

"A review of the 2013 record indicated that there was no analyses, deliberation or findings related to the implications of this critical policy decision," Kerr informed the council in his report.

Kerr, working in conjunction with the planning commission, recommended changing the permitted use status to "conditional use." While the conditional use designation would not prohibit multi-family housing in the commercial general zone, it would give planners more latitude and leverage in determining a development's appropriateness for a given commercial area.

"(A development) would still be reviewed and have to meet all code requirements, but the conditional use process allows for greater scrutiny of a project," Kerr said.

The council concurred and the ordinance change is underway.

The amendment recommendation emerged due to increased interest among developers to build apartments in the commercial zone.

"We have seen a large number of both (building) approvals and the actual construction of multi-family units in Woodburn over the past few years," Kerr said. "However, none were in the Commercial General District. It wasn't until the last six months that we saw a significant interest in multi-family development on commercial general property – leading to our review of this provision of the zoning code."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Pandor 360 Condominiums is built in a commercial general zone, and residents fear that an zoning amendment could alter their ability rebuild in the event of a natural disaster.

While developing the amendment change proposal, planners fielded concerns from the Housing Land Advocates (HLA) and the Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO), along with a petition of objection signed by residents of Pandor 360 Condominiums in Woodburn.

Pandor is a 90-unit condominium that provides affordable housing for seniors. It is located a commercial general zone, and residents expressed concerns that should a natural disaster damage their building, the conditional use designation may preclude rebuilding.

State housing advocates urged the city to defer a decision on the usage change until it accurately gauged the effect it would have on the Woodburn's housing supply, undertaking an inventory that conforms to Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development's Goal 10 to ensure all ranges of housing needs are covered.

Planners stressed that area's zoned for commercial use ensure that the city grows equitably, with services and jobs to keep pace with population growth. Kerr also stressed that the change to conditional use still allows multi-family building in the commercial general zone, but it also ensures that such construction adheres to more rigorous standards and oversight.

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