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City must have plan in place by July 1 or be forced to automatically adopt state model.

COURTESY GRAPHIC: OPTICS DESIGN - This is a conceptual diagram of missing middle housing.The clock is running out on the city of Woodburn as it formulates a game plan to accommodate state-mandated middle housing codes.

For the better part of a year, city planners have been working with the Woodburn Planning Commission with a focus on middle housing, which aims for increased housing density across Oregon by requiring most cities to allow more housing to be built in single-family neighborhoods.

Woodburn City Planner Chris Kerr and Senior Planner Colin Cortez held a workshop with the Woodburn City Council during the last week of April to share ideas while the city formulates its plan, which must be in place by July 1 to avoid an automatic adoption of the state's template.

City officials stress the importance of Woodburn maintaining what prerogatives it has within the overall middle-housing plan when developing its codes and ordinances.

"A lot of the new density requirements for the city are, in fact, going to change the face of Woodburn and all the other communities in exchange for higher densities, putting more people in the same space," City Administrator Scott Derickson forewarned.

Derickson extrapolated that side effects of middle housing treatment could include higher densities, less parking, fewer garages, more duplexes and smaller lots.

"I think you're right, and it really is a challenge," Kerr agreed. "It speaks to this big-picture idea that everyone needs to get their head around — that the Oregon land-use system is set up for cities to develop intensely, to develop a lot of development within urban growth boundaries, and to not have any development outside them in order to protect farmlands, natural areas … and environmentally sensitive areas that we like to protect outside the UGBs.

"Within the UGB, the idea is those areas need to be as dense as possible to accommodate all the population growth that's coming," Kerr said. "What you are getting is this continual push and pull … the term stack 'em and pack 'em, which we hear coming out of Portland. We just got to get more people in here, so we'll just stack them in here like Hong Kong or something. We'll just go higher and higher and higher. That's not that farfetched."

Kerr said he believes Woodburn is handling the task about as well and sensitively as possible by identifying areas where higher density populations are more feasible than others and by accommodating developments that provide for a variety of suitable housing types.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - State legislated middle housing laws aim at getting more densely populated areas within the urban growth areas of communities, which, ideally, would stave off sprawl and threats to farmland, natural areas and other ecologically sensitive lands.

The planner also clarified that city has until July 1 to apply modifications to its codes and plans that meet the standards of the legislated density requirements. If not, a prescribed state model code would be implemented.

"That's not something we want to copy. I've seen it; it was sent out to everybody, and it doesn't meet Woodburn's needs," Kerr said. "We want to make sure we do ours the best way we can."

Middle housing aspects

Cortez used a PowerPoint presentation during the workshop to refresh everyone on the 2019 legislation and other aspects of the middle housing movement, which is defined as duplexes, triplexes, townhouses and cottage clusters — the latter defined as fewer than four detached dwelling units per acre with a footprint of less than 900 feet each and including a common courtyard.

The city hired a consultant to help iron out the process, and the planning commission already has met multiple times, passing a recommended draft during its April meeting. Tentatively, the target for bringing the recommendation before the City Council is May 23.

"That way we can get an ordinance before you sometime in June, and meet the June 30 deadline," Cortez said.

Among the state stipulations are minimum lot sizes and compliance parking spaces, the latter allotting one space per household.

"The standard in the (city) code today is two per any type of dwelling; that won't be the case anymore," Cortez said. "We can, and will continue to, require two stalls for a house, for example, and two for an apartment. But for these middle housing types, it will be what you see here."

Among the other stipulations within the state direction is that cities cannot apply more stringent regulations or standards for middle housing than for other types of housing; standards and regulations for all housing types must be uniform.

Hypothetical scenario

To illustrate the extent of potential changes down the road, Derickson posed a hypothetical scenario before the planners.

"Let's say I wanted to buy a single-family home downtown in Woodburn," Derickson said. "And I wanted to put a fourplex on it as a development property. Would I be able to tear down that garage and the parking spaces and put up my fourplex and — in downtown Woodburn — have a different parking standard than my neighbors when their properties were constructed?"

Yes.

"I could do that; that's my point about the gentrification (issues)," Derickson said.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - While middle housing mandates are aimed at achieving more densely populated areas within Oregon communities, they do not address affordable housing, which is top concern for some members of the Woodburn City Council.

Councilor Ali Swanson added a nonhypothetical scenario to the dialogue. She described several people she is working with who have been displaced from their homes because the owners of the property they were renting from made a deal with developers to build multi-unit complexes on the lot.

"This is definitely having an effect," Swanson said. "And I'm not angry at the city. … I'm just angry about this. Because it is a random one size fits all, and one size does not fit all. And this is nothing about affordable housing."

When asked earlier, Kerr corroborated that there was nothing in the state stipulations in the legislation of middle housing accommodations that addressed affordable housing.

"If we want more affordable housing in Woodburn, we are going to have to get pretty crafty," Swanson said.


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