CANNON BEACH — In a 3-2 vote, the City Council on Tuesday night decided to reject proposed code amendments intended to encourage affordable housing.
Mike Clark of Coaster Properties and former City Planner Rainmar Bartl wanted the city to reduce parking and landscaping requirements, as well as increase height restrictions in the residential zone designated for multifamily housing. The amendment would have also allowed multifamily housing in a commercial zone as an outright use.
The changes would have only applied to developers willing to put a deed restriction on a project that would forbid the apartments from turning into vacation rentals or condominiums.
The idea came as Clark was looking into ways to rebuild the Sea Lark apartments that burned down last winter. Clark was granted a parking variance so he could expand the complex from four to eight units without increasing the number of parking spots. But he wanted the City Council to look at long-term solutions for developers, Bartl said.
While the council affirmed affordable housing as a priority, some councilors decided the proposed changes did little to provide any kind of guarantee units would be affordable.
“If the purpose is to have some affordable housing, then we need to have more in the ordinance than just relaxing building restrictions,” said City Councilor George Vetter, who voted against the amendments.
The council followed the footsteps of the Planning Commission, which in February rejected the proposal due to concerns about how the changes would ensure affordability, as well as the impact to the town’s aesthetic with higher roof heights. Commissioners were also concerned parking changes could make spaces harder to find in a town where parking is already at a premium.
“To me there’s nothing in this that would assure this would be affordable housing,” Commissioner Lisa Kerr said in February. “The proponents are all people involved in development and commercial endeavors. That’s fine — but the way it’s written here is a disaster waiting to happen. I don’t think how any of this could lead to affordable housing.”
Bartl argued reducing the city’s parking requirements would be a way to entice more developers to build by allowing them to maximize the number of units on the property. A study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia found that one parking space per affordable housing unit increases costs by 12.5 percent, which eventually translates into higher rent.
Councilors Nancy McCarthy and Mike Benefield also voted against the amendments Tuesday, fearing that without any form of rent restriction requirement the changes would lead to developers tearing down and rebuilding single-family homes to rent at market prices. Benefield also had concerns about how the changes would affect the “character of Cannon Beach.”
By raising the roof-line limit from 28 feet to 32 feet, properties would be following the same guidelines the city already approves for motels. Developers could build three stories to include more units, which ultimately drives down the rent charged at the end of the project, according to Bartl.
Bartl argued the deed restriction banning short-term rentals and condos acts as a control by taking away two major incentives that drive the high-end home market.
Mayor Sam Steidel and City Councilor Brandon Ogilvie, who both voted for the changes, argued having more multifamily housing would help address affordable housing issues by increasing density.
“We just need more housing. Housing in general is also a need, and regulatory changes are our best option to try to get more development,” Steidel said. “Maybe it will help (affordable housing), maybe it won’t, but it’ll never happen unless we try.”
While Bartl recognized there was no way to guarantee rents would be affordable, the point of the amendments was to find a way to increase the chances of a developer being interested in building housing in Cannon Beach at a time when land and construction costs are soaring.
“I’m rather disheartened by this conversation. You’ve spent five years telling the community you want to do something about affordable housing,” Bartl said. “Nothing has happened. This is the easiest thing that anybody can do, and evidently most of you can’t do it … You have to take some risks.”