City of West Linn considers defying state housing mandates
During an Oct. 21 City Council meeting, Mayor Russ Axelrod suggested the City of West Linn ignore affordable housing regulations mandated by Oregon House Bills 2001 and 2003, which the state legislature passed earlier this year.
Community Development Director John Williams explained some of the implications of the bills to the City Council and Planning Commission at their joint work session Monday, Oct. 21. The bills would require the City to allow townhomes, duplexes, triplexes and other forms of multi-family housing to be built in areas currently zoned for single family dwellings.
Williams explained that the regulations, which will take effect in 2022, are not optional for the City.
Despite this, Axelrod expressed a desire for the City to challenge the rules outlined in the bills, which he called "stupid." Councilors Teri Cummings and Rich Sakelik also said they would be interested in defying House Bills 2001 and 2003.
Axelrod recognized the need for affordable housing, but said the rules mandated in the bills are not the answer. He, Cummings and Sakelik are interested to see if other city governments may be interested in defying the bill's regulations, even if it means the City ends up in a lawsuit.
"This seems like it will create more issues than it will solve," Axelrod said.
Axelrod, Cummings and Sakelik and members of the Planning Commission expressed worry that the City's current infrastructure would not be able to withstand the higher density housing. They also wondered how affordable the multi-family housing would actually be.
Williams stated that bills don't specify any kind of price control to ensure that the new housing truly is affordable. He said developers might be looking to take advantage of the high market values in West Linn.
"In a city like West Linn, we're probably going to see some duplexes that are not gonna be cheap," Williams said.
Williams also said that the model for how these regulations should be implemented haven't been created yet, but the planning to occur before the rules take place in 2022 will include assessing the City's housing and infrastructure. He said the rules for implementation should be completed by the end of next year.
Councilor Jules Walters acknowledged that the bill's mandates may not be perfect but seemed opposed to directly defying them.
"I'm not sure perhaps this is the best way, but at least it's a step forward and I'm very encouraged by that," Walters said. "And also be aware that we —I believe all of us at this table — are very supportive of our urban growth boundary and I'd rather have a cottage cluster next to me than to start building mansions on farms."
Williams said that at the time the bills passed there were mixed opinions from other city governments around the state. About a quarter were in favor of the bills, another quarter of cities were directly opposed and the rest were somewhere in between.
Monday's work session also included an update on the City's stormwater master plan, in which planning staff revealed that $20,000 should be set aside in the next five years for a feasibility study on daylighting Bernert Creek, which currently runs beneath the White Oak Savanna, as part of the City's storm water system. This study was one of 10 projects listed as "high priority" in the plan.
A small group of citizens have long been pushing for the creek to be moved above ground, though others have expressed worry on how this could affect the City's stormwater system.
Axelrod, a geologist, has previously expressed concern about the risks that could come with daylighting the creek and how those risks are heightened by unpredictable weather patterns brought on by climate change. More frequent and more severe storms make daylighting the creek risky, he said.
Alice Richmond, a member of the Utility Advisory Board — which joined the council and the planning commission for part of the meeting — asked why Bernert Creek was given a high priority in the plan.
Associate Planner Amy Pepper said that the Bernert Creek study was initially listed as a medium priority by staff, but moved to high priority at the recommendation of the planning commission. The commission made this recommendation after testimony during a recent public hearing.
Other projects listed as high priority in the plan are culvert replacements along Highway 43, 5th Avenue, Willamette Falls Drive and River Street, as well as improvements to Blankenship Road, Buck Street and Mark Lane, retrofitting of a public pond on Katherine Court and a stormwater system survey.
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