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The Wilsonville Planning Commission discusses whether to establish different open space requirements based on size

PMG FILE PHOTO - Commission discusses whether to establish different open space requirements based on size

The implications of open space requirements for housing developments might not be an issue the average resident ponders while gazing at the stars on a warm summer evening. But even seemingly minute changes can affect anything from the livability of a neighborhood to the cost of housing.

During the City of Wilsonville Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14, the commission considered some of these nuances as part of the City's process to update its residential zoning code. Much of the code hasn't been updated since 2000 and potentially affected areas include all undeveloped land outside of Frog Pond and Villebois, which have separate code requirements.

Specifically, the Planning Commission debated whether certain code changes would create requirements that equitably distribute open spac e— which can include public and private parks, preserved natural areas, walking paths that aren't in the right-of-way and stormwater facilities — to homeowners of different socioeconomic statuses.

The proposed code would create a distinction between lots greater than 6,000 square feet and lots smaller than 6,000 square feet. Unlike for lots smaller than 6,000 square feet, under the proposed code changes, 10% of the lot area for lots greater than 6,000 feet could go toward meeting the minimum requirement that 25% of land within a subdivision be open space.

Currently, yards within private lots are not allowed to go toward meeting open space requirement regardless of size.

Also, 10% of the net development area for lots less than 6,000 square feet would have to go toward common open space (which is non-yard open space) and half of that must be usable open space.

The City had implemented the open space standards in question for residential zoning in Frog Pond West, a neighborhood north of Boeckman Road that is currently under development, and City of Wilsonville Planning Director Miranda Bateschell said the logic for the potential new requirements is the same as it was for Frog Pond.

"There was a discussion (during the Frog Pond neighborhood planning process) that the smaller lots, because they didn't have yard space, there was a concern that there wouldn't be enough adequate green space or open space in those areas and there was a desire to ensure that residents of those homes would have enough space to be able to go and have open space and have other places (outside of their home) to enjoy," she said.

Planning Commissioner Simon Springall wondered if it was fair for smaller lot developments to have more stringent open space requirements and, in turn, potentially be more costly to build than larger lots developments since building costs typically spike housing prices.

"When builders are planning smaller lots they have to set aside a certain amount of space for open space. When they're planning larger lots they don't. What does that do to the relative cost of that land? It appears it makes the smaller lots relatively more expensive than the larger lots per acre," he said.

Planning Commissioner Peter Hurley said Springall's logic that lots are more expensive due to higher open space requirements was correct but that Metro regional government policies are the root of the problem.

"You're 100% correct but if you have an issue of it take it up with Metro. This is what Metro is driving is smaller, denser, more expensive lots," he said.

Wilsonville Planning Commissioner Eric Postma said that because land supply in the Metro area is fixed, land consumption is a zero sum game, meaning one landowner's gain is another's loss. So without the requirement, homeowners of smaller lots could end up with insufficient open space.

"Having a system where we make sure there's usable space in those smaller lot subdivisions was kind of the tradeoff for the fact that land is zero sum and to make sure that equitably those who are buying smaller lot subdivisions still have usable space even though they can't pay more money for larger lots that have a backyard," he said.

After the conversation, Springall agreed with the preference for keeping the proposed open space requirements and the Planning Commission told City staff that they were heading in the right direction with the proposed code changes. Wilsonville City Council will ultimately decide whether to pass the changes.

City staff also recommended that the code changes remove the waiver requirement needed to count a public park as part of the open space requirements and instead allow only parks within a quarter mile to go toward the requirements. It also would require that half of all open space that isn't located in the City's Significant Resources Overlay Zone — which prevents development on key natural resources — be usable open space and that usable open space must be designed by a credentialed architect.

"The land within the urban growth boundary is a scarce thing and we have to be smart about how we're using it," Wilsonville Planning Manager Daniel Pauly said. "If we're able to make sure that we do what we can in our standards to ensure that it's efficiently used but also that we're preserving the high quality habitat and that (open) space provided is highly usable and functional."

The Planning Commission discussed potential changes to density code during a previous meeting and the commission and Wilsonville City Council will address the residential zoning code project again at later dates.

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