A granny flat in every yard?
The state says granny flats are "in."
But, as is the case with high fashion, not everyone agrees on the latest trends. And despite a new state law regarding accessory dwelling units (ADUs) that's set to go into effect July 1, West Linn officials don't expect to see much of an increase in that form of housing.
Senate Bill 1051 was passed at the 2017 Oregon Legislature and requires cities with populations greater than 2,500 and counties with more than 15,000 residents to allow ADUs — which are sometimes referred to as "granny flats" — on properties zoned for single-family housing. ADUs are smaller, auxiliary structures that can be added inside or attached to an existing home, or created by either constructing a new building or converting a garage space. They are intended to provide more affordable, apartment-style housing in an increasingly cramped market, and are particularly popular among senior citizens and young adults.
House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, pushed the new ADU provisions in the 2017 housing bill she sponsored, which became Senate Bill 1051A.
But the law will have a more profound impact on cities outside of the Portland metro area, according to West Linn Community Development Director John Williams.
"ADUs have been required in the metro region for years," Williams said. "Every city in the metro region has had to allow them for a while. (The question is) how strictly or loosely do you want to regulate them? And a lot is somewhat voluntary — state law doesn't tell you exactly how to regulate, it just wants you to allow them."
Even after the Metro regional government agency passed a law requiring cities within its jurisdiction to allow ADUs in 1996, the housing style has yet to take off in areas outside of Portland proper. While about 600 units are built per year in Portland, West Linn sees only a handful annually, according to Williams.
"Based on what other jurisdictions are experiencing, it's likely that will increase," Williams said. "There's a lot of demand for housing the West Linn area … ADUs can make it cheaper — not only to live in a place, but also to own property if you can offset some of the cost."
West Linn codes allow for interior, attached and detached ADUs of between 250 and 1,000 square feet with a maximum of one bedroom — standards that are fairly common among metro area jurisdictions. At least one parking space must be provided for the ADU and one for the primary dwelling, except when an abutting street has on-street parking and a paved width of more than 28 feet.
ADUs in West Linn also come with several fees that can make them more cost prohibitive, according to Williams.
"I would say (the West Linn ADU codes) are a little on the restrictive side right now, and the only thing I'm comparing it to is what other cities are doing," Williams said. "We have some design requirements. (Property owners) have to pay their way for SDCs (systems development charges) and permitting fees, and they may even have to build street improvements.
"Lots of cities are removing some of those requirements, or never had them I suppose."
According to an audit completed by planning consultant Elizabeth Decker on behalf of Metro, only two Metro area jurisdictions — Portland and Wilsonville — waive SDCs entirely for ADUs. In general, Decker found room for improvement across the board when it came to how local cities handled ADUs.
"No one city has a 'perfect' code," Decker wrote in a March 12 memo to Metro. "There were areas of concern and potential improvement noted in every code; Portland's code has the fewest areas of concern and is generally known to support ADU development, coupled with the current SDC waiver. It will be interesting to explore how the various code features affect actual ADU production across other jurisdictions through the interview phase of this project, and better understand which restrictions have the greatest chilling effect and which can be skillfully navigated around."
But Williams said there aren't any immediate plans to re-evaluate the City's ADU codes, as they appear to meet the new state requirements.
"We haven't had any direction from the City Council to look into that," he said. "It's sort of on our list of questions to ask sometime, if the community and the council would like to look into it."
City Council President Brenda Perry is skeptical about the practicality of ADUs in a city like West Linn.
"The trouble is that land is not cheap in West Linn," Perry said. "You can't just take affordable housing and stick it down somewhere, because if people are low income, they need transportation and jobs — and transportation to that job. If you find cheaper land to put (ADUs) in, then you've got to put transportation in as well."
Given West Linn's relative lack of employment options and public transportation services — there are just two TriMet bus lines that run in the city — Perry has trouble seeing how the city could accommodate ADU occupants.
"It's not that we're against ADUs, or against affordable housing," she said. "It's more that it's not practical in West Linn."
Williams, for his part, said it was difficult to predict how the community might react to a push for more ADUs.
"The explosion has been in Portland and closer-in neighborhoods," Williams said. "ADUs are small. There's a size restriction on them, and people seem more interested in that housing in cities rather than suburbs."
He noted, however, that the City recently received a notice from Clackamas County about plans to change its zoning laws to allow for ADUs in unincorporated areas.
"There's places right outside our city limits in Stafford that would be affected by that," Williams said.