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Wilsonville must meld equitable housing strategy and Frog Pond planning with new code

PMG PHOTO: COREY BUCHANAN - Villebois is an example of a community with ample middle housing, with includes duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and cottage clusters.

During the legislative process, Mayor Tim Knapp and the City of Wilsonville had some concerns about House Bill 2001 — the landmark 2019 bill that outlawed exclusive single-family residential zoning.

They felt the City already had a diverse mix of housing and that increases in housing supply could impact local infrastructure. Knapp and others would have preferred shaping policy at the local level rather than have it dictated by the state, and saw the initial proposal mandating that "missing middle" housing — duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and cottage clusters — be allowed on any residential lot as too drastic.

Knapp's view has shifted since then.

Though he said implementing the legislation will be challenging, he is happier with the final version of the bill, which requires duplexes to be allowed on every lot but the other middle housing types only in "areas of residential use."

And though the West Linn City Council recently discussed challenging the legislation, he would not be in favor of Wilsonville City Council considering a similar position.

"I don't think it would be prudent, because I don't think it (a legal challenge) has a high probability of succeeding and could be a very, very long, drawn out, expensive process," Knapp said.

Instead, the City is beginning the long process toward implementing the legislation.

Recently, it agreed to wait for the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLDC) to create a code framework for cities — rather than beginning the process of tweaking the code on its own — and applied for a $181,500 grant from the DLDC that would go toward the extensive task of reworking the code.

Meanwhile, the City will have to thread the needle to make sure its equitable housing strategy, which explores how to provide more affordable housing in town, and planning in Frog Pond East and South, two future residential neighborhoods, meld with the legislation.

City Project Manager Dan Pauly said the equitable housing strategy would come first, new zoning laws second, and Frog Pond planning third. The deadline for the completion of the new code language is 2022.

The City also says the equitable housing strategy will help it comply with House Bill 2003, which directs cities to develop a housing production strategy.

One of the goals of House Bill 2001 was to reduce housing costs by creating a larger and more diversified housing market. The City's equitable housing strategy has similar aspirations, though it has yet to determine specific proposals for achieving them.

Asked if the new zoning laws could complement Wilsonville's housing strategy, Knapp said "I think they can.

"I think it's a challenge to us to figure out how to enable them to go hand in hand and meet a variety of goals we have," he added.

"I think the timing for us is fortuitous in that we have that process going on now and we can fold this new set of state requirements into those plans and figure out how to do it well, to construct neighborhoods that are desirable and well planned and function agreeably to people who want to live there."

The City is awaiting answers to a few questions before it can better project the consequences of the legislation.

Most notably, it isn't yet sure what "an area for residential use" is. The answer could significantly inform how prevalent middle housing will become.

"A block in Frog Pond versus all of Frog Pond is a major difference ... in terms of the type of housing that would need to be allowed and whether or not we're currently in compliance," Pauly said.

The City also is awaiting how the new bill will affect density calculations, which the City uses to set density caps in residential areas.

Knapp surmises that the legislation will be more impactful to areas that haven't yet been developed, like Frog Pond, and not as consequential in existing neighborhoods. And Pauly noted that existing homeowners association restrictions can override the new rules and that many associations forbid middle housing.

"I don't think people are going to see much change in existing neighborhoods except very gradually over a period of time and (when) an individual lot might become available," Knapp said.

Knapp said he isn't as concerned about infrastructure strain as he was before the bill was tweaked and that the City should wait to see how the bill impacts development before considering infrastructure improvements. Pauly said the City will monitor such impacts over time.

"That will be a slow process, and I think it's much more appropriate that we focus attention on still-to-be-developed areas and figure out how to make them work and respond to any sort of issue on existing infrastructure as it starts to become apparent, if it becomes apparent," Knapp said.


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