Astoria and Warrenton are on track to allow a denser, more diverse array of housing in single-family neighborhoods.
A countywide housing study showed a lack of affordable workforce housing. Since then, cities have been trying to diversify the region’s housing stock through code, zoning and other changes in building rules.
Changes have also been driven by the passage of state House Bill 2001, which essentially abandoned single-family zoning in cities with more than 10,000 people to promote the development of duplexes, row houses, cottage clusters, stacked flats and accessory dwelling units where only stand-alone homes were once allowed. The new law also eliminated owner occupancy, parking and minimum lot size requirements for accessory dwelling units. Cities must implement the rules by the end of next year.
“We cannot treat an accessory dwelling unit any differently than a single-family dwelling,” said Astoria City Planner Barbara Fryer, who is writing standards after the Planning Commission recently took up the issue.
While planning commissioners did not like the idea of shipping container or RV-style tiny homes, they were supportive of smaller, modular, manufactured and other tiny homes without a minimum size, Fryer said.
“The general consensus was that if somebody wanted to propose a 100-square-foot (unit) and was willing to live in it, that would be OK if it met building code requirements for amount of space,” she said. “We had one person testify that they wanted to live in a 150-square-foot tiny home, because that’s all they could afford.”
The countywide housing study and state recommended allowing both internal and detached accessory dwelling units, potentially creating three individual living spaces in and around a single home. But planning commissioners, worried about traffic, thought homes should only include either an internal or detached dwelling unit, not both, she said.
The Planning Commission also looked at an updated definition for single-room occupancy — multiple people renting individual rooms but sharing amenities in a larger housing unit — beyond rules allowing five unrelated people in one structure, Fryer said. The changes would clear the way for more cooperative housing like quads or boarding houses. The Norblad Hotel, for example, offers a similar monthly rental of rooms that share bathroom and kitchen spaces.
The city is “looking at where we might permit those types of products, and how we might allow them — what are some of the design standards or requirements that we might have,” she said.
Fryer will come back to the Planning Commission in January with recommended changes and hopes to hold a hearing on the code amendments as soon as March before they head to the City Council.
Kevin Cronin, Warrenton’s community development director, created a list of recommended zoning and code changes stemming from a housing needs assessment completed in June. His recommendations included lower lot size requirements, higher densities and more diverse housing types such as mixed-use commercial-residential buildings, multiplexes, townhomes, cottage clusters, accessory dwelling units and transitional shelters.
The Planning Commission last month recommended approval of most of Cronin’s recommendations, except for one requiring subdivisions of 20 or more homes to have structures — likely garages — ready for the future buildout of accessory dwelling units, and another banning certain siding materials staff sees as unsuitable for the region’s environment.
The City Commission appeared poised earlier this week to make those recommendations into city ordinance. But commissioners first wanted Cronin to make changes to increase parking and lot size in cottage clusters — a new type of housing being considered in Warrenton — and for wider street widths to account for the greater number of cars in the relatively lower-density city.
“Just because of the way that rural living works, two cars is kind of almost, almost a necessity,” Mayor Henry Balensifer said.
Cronin recommended a minimum lot size of 10,000 square feet for cottage clusters. Commissioner Mark Baldwin, a building contractor, suggested increasing the lot size to 15,000 square feet to make room for more parking, and making cottage clusters more feasible for developers.
“I know we’re losing bang for buck, but we’re either going to lose bang for buck, or we’re going to turn into Portland,” he said.
Cronin said he understands the fear of smaller streets clogged by parked cars, but doesn’t think wider streets necessarily solve anything.
“The larger issue is just infrastructure costs in general,” he said. “And I think that’s what we’re going to be talking to you about on” Tuesday as the city enters the budget process.
The Planning Commission last month also rejected Cronin’s attempt to craft an overlay zone for a mix of residential and commercial development on a wedge divided between 19 property owners between state Highway 104 and U.S. Highway 101. The City Commission recently approved a zone change there to allow a denser mix of commercial and residential development, along with public spaces, trails and improved streets.
Planning commissioners argued that the proposal is too restrictive on property rights and doesn’t solve surrounding traffic issues that were the master plan’s impetus. Cronin said that master planning and collaboration between property owners is a cheaper fix to future traffic issues than costly infrastructure improvements.
City commissioners largely agreed with Cronin’s call for more forward-thinking master planning. But Commissioner Pam Ackley wanted more information on the size of commercial spaces and related parking standards.
The city has struggled with traffic issues at the intersection of Highway 101 and Ensign Lane, the hub of the North Coast Retail Center. Cronin has recommended caps of 350 housing units and 50,000 square feet of commercial space to limit traffic in the Spur 104 neighborhood.
Balensifer said the City Commission will be ready to vote at its next regular meeting on the housing code amendments and the Spur 104 plan once it has a clearer picture on the parking standards and commercial lot sizes.