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The city is in the process of tweaking code to account for sweeping housing bill

In considering potential tweaks to the city's code to account for landmark housing legislation, the Wilsonville Planning Commission stated a preference for providing flexibility rather than constraining the future development of middle housing during a meeting Thursday, Nov. 12.

House Bill 2001, passed in 2019 by the Oregon legislature, required that cities with populations over 25,000 allow for the development of duplexes on each lot in neighborhoods zoned for residential use, while also allowing triplexes, quadplexes, townhouses and cottage clusters within residential areas.

However, the law provided some wiggle room for individual municipalities to create their own standards. The city must comply with the law while also adjusting based on feedback from the planning commission and the Wilsonville City Council. The work will continue well into next year.

"It's really important middle housing regulations meet requirements but are functional and usable by developers and lead to on-the-ground development of middle housing," consultant Kate Rogers said.

At the meeting, the commission considered a few decisions the city will need to make before completing the code update.

The first was whether or not the city should allow detached (as well as attached) middle housing structures. One benefit of allowing detached units is that only allowing attached units would often lead to the demolition and redevelopment of existing homes whereas detached units could be built alongside existing structures, Rogers said.

"That (demolition) adds quite a bit of cost to the process, and it's not desirable to the community usually to see a lot of demolitions," Rogers said.

Rogers also said the city of Bend already allows detached middle housing structures and that a unit next to an existing single-family home could be similar to an accessory dwelling unit but without size limitations.

The commission recommended the city allow for detached units, preferring flexibility over rigidity.

Next, the commission recommended the city allow cottage clusters — which are clusters of four or more units where no unit is larger than 900 feet — to reside on a single lot or for all units to be on their own individual lot.

Consultants explained that allowing units to be developed on individual lots is more desirable for builders because each owner can own the land underneath while shared amenities are co-owned.

"Units on a single parcel could be sold as condominiums (or rented), but this can be a less marketable option for ownership," the city staff report read.

Planning Commissioner Aaron Woods said: "I think the maximum flexibility is the route to go, period. It allows for both situations — either/or."

Finally, the commission discussed areas (including in Old Town) where the zoning code is residential agriculture (RAH), which is considered a holding zone for future development.

The current zoning would constrain development, consultants and the city said, because the middle housing construction projects would need approval from the Development Review Board and Wilsonville City Council, which increases costs and fosters uncertainty. However, some Old Town neighbors don't want density added to their neighborhood, as evidenced by recent concern over a townhouse development there.

"It (the current zoning code) wouldn't stop middle lots in Old Town or other areas from having middle housing built. It would just make the process longer and more costly," said Dan Pauly, the city's planning manager.

The commission seemed to prefer that the city rezone RAH residential lots. Other options would be to allow a conditional rezone pending property owner approval, amending the RAH designation to permit middle housing development or expediting the process for the required zone map amendments under the RAH code.

"It seems to me that the RAH designation in Old Town is out of place. It doesn't make sense. Changing it to what it's supposed to be makes sense," said Planning Commissioner Kamran Mesbah.

Meanwhile, the city is in the process of moving forward with its Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, designed to facilitate more affordable housing in town. Rogers felt that adding flexibility to the code could lead to affordability.

"Allowing flexibility to add as many units as possible will increase housing supply, and increasing housing supply over time brings costs down," Rogers said.

The city will continue to work on code developments and receive input from the planning commission over the coming months. The update is expected to be presented to the City Council for adoption next summer.

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