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Wilsonville Planning Commission members object to altering lot coverage rules for tiny homes

SPOKESMAN PHOTO - Some members of the Wilsonville Planning Commission are expressing concern about changing city rules to disallow future neighborhood developments from forbidding accessory dwelling units. Regarding legislation to ease accessory dwelling unit (ADU) requirements, the Wilsonville Planning Commission and the City of Wilsonville do not appear to be on the same page.

While the City planned to not only meet the letter but embrace the spirit of Senate Bill 1051 — which mandated that Oregon cities with a population greater than 2,500 remove some barriers to ADU development — planning commission members expressed wariness about some proposed ADU code changes that they believe are unnecessary and could taint the community's character at a public hearing Wednesday, July 11. No citizens provided testimony during the mandatory public hearing.

ADUs — which are small dwelling structures that reside next to primary homes — are generally cheaper than houses and one of the purposes of the Senate Bill is to encourage the development of more affordable housing. Wilsonville staff has said records indicate that less than 10 ADUs have been built in the city's history.

"I think the logic behind the legislation is that with housing reaching crisis levels for some people in almost all of our communities, having more economical places to live is important," Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp told the Spokesman.

The commission was essentially unanimous in its apprehension about changing lot coverages, which is the amount of a lot that can be covered by housing structures, and some commission members also expressed dismay over preventing new subdivisions from disallowing ADUs. Wilsonville City Council members, however, did not pose these concerns at the July 2 work session when they were presented with the proposed code changes.

"The history of ADUs in Wilsonville is that the council is very much in favor of removing barriers," Wilsonville Assistant City Attorney Amanda Guile-Hinman said at the planning commission meeting. "The council's concern is 'How do we get more?'"

The commission closed the public hearing but continued the legislative hearing to a date that is yet to be determined so that City staff could address concerns. Regardless of the commission's opinions, the council will ultimately decide whether to pass or tweak the code changes.

The deadline for adhering to the State bill already passed — potentially putting the City in a time crunch. However, Guile-Hinman said many other cities had yet to pass code changes and that the City won't need to rush to pass a resolution. She also said City staff will address the commissioners concerns when the commission considers the issue again and either change the proposal or provide more justification for the current proposal.

Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp said he isn't yet versed in the technical details of the ADU code or the Senate bill, but indicated that local restrictions, such as subdivisions outlawing ADUs, could obfuscate the legislation's intent.

"In general terms I think the intent is to make economical housing a little more available and if local rules overwhelm that then that intent is not achieved," he said.

If approved, the code changes would allow homeowners to build ADUs on their property in greater density in some residential neighborhoods than currently allowed.

Depending on the state's interpretation of the word "reasonable," Wilsonville might not be required under Senate Bill 1051 to change lot coverage standards. The bill states that ADU development can be "subject to reasonable local regulations relating to siting and design."

Planning commissioners Eric Postma and Peter Hurley objected to the idea of easing lot coverage requirements to facilitate ADU development.

"What I'm concerned about is if I have purchased a lot on a larger lot subdivision, I've accepted the fact that I may or may not be able to build an accessory dwelling unit based on my lot coverage but the trade-off for that is I know my neighbor can't as well," Postma said. "What we're doing now is we're changing the definition of the neighborhood of everybody in Wilsonville that they have chosen to live in."

"Now we're saying you can't build much more of a house, but we will change the playing field if you want to build an apartment in the back and rent it out and have guests there," Hurley said. "You can do that but you can't build a bigger house."

Senior Planner Daniel Pauly said current lot coverage requirements are the biggest deterrent to ADU development in Wilsonville.

"I'd say a good 75 percent of (developments) we did, everything looks great but lot coverage," he said. "We don't anticipate based on our history in Wilsonville for there to be a huge onslaught of ADUs. But this removes a barrier so somebody that is interested has the opportunity to use their land in a way that benefits them, benefits someone else and has a limited impact on the community."

Planning Commissioner Jerry Greenfield said he previously lived in an ADU and supports them generally but also didn't like the idea of changing lot coverage to accommodate diminutive living spaces.

"There is a place for that accomodation and there's a place for it in Wilsonville. I think it would add to Wilsonville's overall attractiveness if they were available," Greenfield said. "That's not to say we should incentivize where they don't make so much sense."

If they had their druthers, Postma and Hurley would remove the proposed provision that would outlaw new subdivisions from preventing ADUs from being developed in their neighborhoods. Postma also objected to the provision that subdivisions should have to put in writing on their plat documents that they allow ADUs. The Senate Bill does not mandate either of these rules.

"I don't like the restriction against it. We as a city are not allowed to have restrictions but when you're taking the next step and saying is that the landowners can't have restrictions ... I don't think the statute requires that either," Postma said.

Greenfield also did not like the code change that would remove the regulation that ADUs must have "substantially the same" exterior design as the primary dwelling unit. However the City said such language does not meet the bill's rule that design requirements should be "clear and objective," meaning there's no room for interpretation. City staff said they could cater specific design standards to the makeup of individual neighborhoods.

"If we don't have some kind of standards I can imagine a hodgepodge that could embarrass us architecturally," Greenfield said.

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