The hope for councilors was to improve the availability of housing stock, especially affordable or workforce housing. But before evening’s end, the city shied from adopting two measures, fearing that unintended consequences would fail to meet the goals the ordinances were meant to address.
Two amendments — raising the building height in a commercial zone and off-street parking amendments to address variance criteria — went before the public at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The original proposal asked the city to reduce parking and landscaping requirements, as well as relax height restrictions in the residential zone designated for multifamily housing. The proposal would have also allowed multifamily housing in a commercial zone as an outright use.
Robin Risley, a candidate for City Council, said in the public comment period that downtown density and parking could worsen if the amendments were adopted. “My suggestion is to really think about this,” Risley said. “It will change the complexion of what is already a concern.”
Resident Jan Siebert-Wahrmund urged the council not to weaken height regulations as proposed in the draft ordinance.
“Why would we allow our city to lose its village character by allowing potentially every building in our C-1 zone to add potentially another story?” Siebert-Wahrmund asked. “This is not an acceptable risk. Please think of the unintended consequences of loosening these regulations.”
The proposed parking ordinance would have amended the variance process to include multifamily residences used for long-term rentals as a factor to address one of three variance criteria.
According to the proposed height ordinance, building height would have been raised as from 24 to 28 feet. The ridge height of a pitched roof would not have exceeded 32 feet. This would have opened the way for developers to add a third story to be used for permanent housing for mixed residential and commercial downtown buildings. The proposed zoning ordinance amendments sought to encourage the development of long-term rental housing — the housing type needed to help meet the needs of groups that lack resources for owner-occupied housing or require rental housing for other reasons.
City Planner Mark Barnes said some graded sites may be able to meet those height requirements, he said, but space would be tight on a level property. “With a 28-feet height limit, I doubt you would see three stories,” Barnes said.
The extra story would need to serve as multifamily housing, defined as three or more units. The units would not have been sold as condominiums or short-term rentals.
Councilors said they feared that the amendments would prove impractical.
“We’re trying to create housing for the workforce,” George Vetter said. “I don’t see where anywhere downtown someone is going to opt to put in workforce housing instead of commercial.”
Even if a building could meet the height standard, parking could remain problematic.
Adding a third story to an existing building would be difficult, Barnes added. “It would be the rare building that could see a third story grafted onto it.”
As a result, existing buildings would likely be torn down rather than added on to, further adding to cost. New buildings would hover over existing properties, blocking views or light and would likely fail to meet the need for workforce housing.
“I don’t see how a brand-new building is going to be affordable either,” Councilor Mike Benefield said.
The city would be unable to guarantee the apartments would be designated for affordable housing, Vetter said, and while use as a short-term rental would be prohibited, owners may use the homes “as their Cannon Beach getaway” rather than meeting critical housing needs. “Do we really gain anything with this? We’re rolling the dice.”
Mayor Sam Steidel lamented a lack of options in meeting what has been the city’s No. 1 focus for years. “There’s nothing left,” Steidel said. “We’ve argued every other point.”
That leaves the city with few options, Steidel said. “We have a difficult problem with affordable housing. My hope was that this one would allow for someone to do something who had some properties in the downtown area.”
Along with councilors, Steidel agreed chances of getting affordable housing through this ordinance are “very slim.”
Barnes suggested a review of the city’s buildable lands inventory. “We’re getting to the point where the number of vacant lots left and the lots suitable for multifamily housing is getting small.”
At some point the city will be faced with the choice of more density in town or expanding the urban growth boundary, Barnes said. “I don’t want to see the city paint themselves into a corner with this.”
This discussion will likely be postponed, but “the longer you wait, the narrower your options get.”