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Answers elusive for affordable housing in Cannon Beach

City councilors fear unintended consequences
By R.J. Marx

The Daily Astorian

Published on September 5, 2018 4:46PM

City Planner Mark Barnes, City Manager Bruce St. Denis, Councilor Nancy McCarthy, Councilor Mike Benefield, Mayor Sam Steidel, Councilor George Vetter and Councilor Brandon Ogilvie at a meeting Tuesday.

R.J. Marx/The Daily Astorian

City Planner Mark Barnes, City Manager Bruce St. Denis, Councilor Nancy McCarthy, Councilor Mike Benefield, Mayor Sam Steidel, Councilor George Vetter and Councilor Brandon Ogilvie at a meeting Tuesday.

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CANNON BEACH — The hope for the Cannon Beach City Council was to improve the housing stock, especially affordable or workforce housing. But before evening’s end on Tuesday, city councilors shied away from adopting two measures, fearing unintended consequences.

The amendments would have raised the building height in commercial zones and reduced off-street parking requirements.

Robin Risley, a candidate for City Council, said that downtown density and parking could worsen if the amendments were adopted. “My suggestion is to really think about this,” he said. “It will change the complexion of what is already a concern.”

Jan Siebert-Wahrmund, a resident, urged the council not to weaken height regulations.

“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?” she asked. “This is not an acceptable risk. Please think of the unintended consequences of loosening these regulations.”

The amendments sought to encourage the development of long-term rental housing. But city councilors said they feared the amendments would prove impractical.

“We’re trying to create housing for the workforce,” City Councilor George Vetter said. “I don’t see where anywhere downtown someone is going to opt to put in workforce housing instead of commercial.”

Adding another story to an existing building could be difficult. As a result, existing buildings would likely be torn down rather than expanded, 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 vacation rental would have been prohibited, owners could have used 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,” he said.

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 alternatives, Steidel said. “We have a difficult problem with affordable housing,” he said. “My hope was that this one would allow for someone to do something who had some properties in the downtown area.”

Along with city councilors, Steidel agreed the chances of getting affordable housing through the amendments were “very slim.”

City Planner Mark 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,” he said.

At some point the city will be faced with the choice of more density in town or expanding the urban growth boundary. “I don’t want to see the city paint themselves into a corner with this,” Barnes said.



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