State bill forces cities to ease restrictions regarding accessory dwelling units

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Accessory dwelling units like this one in a Portland backyard are being encouraged through a new state law pushing cities to minimize rules making it difficult to build them. A new state law designed to eliminate local rules that make it challenging to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) — often called "granny flats" — is set to go into effect July 1 and Wilsonville must adapt its code to the new law.

Wilsonville already allows ADUs in all of its residential neighborhoods but has some provisions that do not comply with the new state law.

Wilsonville Planning Manager Miranda Bateschell said adjustments will be minor.

"Our code is predominantly in line with Senate Bill 1051 (which was passed in 2017) and we have very minor tweaks to make," Bateschell said.

In Portland, where housing prices continue to rise and affordable options are scarce, accessory dwelling units — which can include an interior, attached or detached structure that accompanies a single family dwelling — are a more affordable housing alternative and can provide rent income for homeowners. About 600 are built per year in the state's largest city.

However, though Metro passed a law in 1996 requiring cities within its jurisdiction to allow ADUs, ADUs have been much less common in Portland suburbs, including Wilsonville. In fact, Bateschell said Wilsonville's records show that only nine ADUs have been built in the city.

Rather than onerous provisions, Bateschell said Wilsonville lacks ADUs in part because they aren't as attractive in the Wilsonville market as the Portland market.

"Housing in Portland is the most expensive in the region and they are going to end up with more accessory dwelling units than areas in a region that have been more affordable," Bateschell said. "Also, in Wilsonville, we have a lot of housing options. We've developed a lot of different types of single family housing units that are a range of sizes."

Wilsonville's current code allows for ADUs of no more than 800 feet, no more than two bedrooms and either attached or detached structures.

One of Wilsonville's limiting provisions that must be eliminated according to the new law is that ADUs must have off-street parking on blocks where more than 25 percent of lots have ADUs.

Also, Wilsonville's code states that ADUs are subject to the City's standard zoning regulations. So if ADU developments don't comply with lot standards such as setbacks, height or lot coverage, they cannot be built. The Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLDC) and Metro informed Wilsonville that such regulations should not deter ADU development.

"We have to make sure we don't create a barrier to construct ADUs. We're looking at lot coverage and setbacks to see if we comply with the provision. We're not certain yet," Bateschell said.

Wilsonville must also change the language in its code to state that one ADU can be built per single family dwelling unit rather than per lot. Bateschell doesn't believe this requirement will have much practical implication.

Additionally, rather than stating that ADU design and architecture must be "substantially the same" as the adjoining single family unit, the City must provide standards that are less nebulous and establish that standards for ADUs are not more stringent than standards for single family homes.

On the compliant side, Wilsonville is one of two cities in the Portland metro area that offer a system development charge waiver for ADUs.

The new state law is intended to make ADU development easier.

"The whole purpose of the law is to "lower barriers to development" and weed out poison pills, said Laura Buhl, a land use and transportation planner with the state Department of Land Conservation and Development. Some communities may meet the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law, she added.

Neighborhood covenants can currently impose restrictions on ADUs that supercede city code and the new state law doesn't address that issue, according to Bateschell — who discussed the issue with Metro and DLDC staff. Disputes between neighborhoods and cities could be decided in court, she added.

"I know a lot of the neighborhoods in Wilsonville have HOAs (homeowners associations) but don't know the extent to which those covenants address ADUs or not," Bateschell said.

Though housing costs in Wilsonville continue to climb and the code changes could make ADU development easier, Bateschell doesn't expect ADUs to proliferate in the near future.

"My guess is we won't see much of a difference in the short-term," she said. "It's really hard to predict population and housing trends beyond 10, 15 years. I don't think there's going to be a sudden shift by any means."

The Wilsonville Planning Commission will hold a work session June 13 on potential changes to the city code and anticipates holding a public hearing July 11.

Portland Tribune News Editor Steve Law contributed to

this story.

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