WARRENTON — City planning commissioners balked Thursday at some of the housing code changes proposed by city staff and a state consultant to increase housing density and options.
Kevin Cronin, the city’s community development director, presented a list of recommended changes stemming from a housing needs assessment completed in June. They included lower lot size requirements, higher densities and more diverse housing types.
The recommendations first tackled accessory dwelling units, where Cronin said the city is in violation of state law by not allowing owners to offer them on the rental market.
City code requires that attached housing units be owner-occupied. The owner may act as a resident caretaker of a main house while living in the accessory unit or appoint a family member to perform such duties.
“This just needs to be deleted,” Cronin said.
Planning Commissioner Christine Bridgens took umbrage at the proposed deletion, arguing that market rentals of accessory units would change the character of Warrenton. She also took issue with other recommendations to lower lot size and increase density requirements.
“I would not want to have a rental unit in my backyard,” she said. “I’m looking out my kitchen at someone who’s renting an accessory dwelling unit. I think it would lower our property values.”
Commissioner Chris Hayward, pointing out potential density issues, said he could fit an attic unit and several tiny homes on his property.
“I’ve got a real narrow street,” he said. “Pretty soon, I could have quite a backup.”
The city allows one accessory dwelling unit outright, Cronin said, after which he’d need enough land to add additional tiny homes. He argued the changes will provide property owners more flexibility.
“That’s great, except that in a neighborhood like that, where everybody’s expecting a certain quality of life, it can drastically change it,” Hayward said. “And in Warrenton, there are a lot of big chunks of residential property.”
Commissioners took issue with a proposal to require that subdivisions of 10 or more lots include structures — likely garages — ready for attached or detached accessory dwelling units. Paul Mitchell, the chairman of the Planning Commission, argued the requirement would increase the already often unaffordable price of homes.
The Planning Commission could recommend a higher threshold of lots to require accessory ready housing, Cronin said, but the proposed requirement would represent maybe 1% of the cost of a house for builders.
“It may not be a big expense to the homebuilder, but the consumer who buys it is now going to pay more for square footage,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to cost them more.”
The market should decide what’s needed, Hayward added.
The proposed code amendments included allowing small clusters of smaller cottages meant to add more affordable housing.
Nathan Watson, a tiny house developer from Albany who previously planned a presentation to the city about the concept, testified in support of the cottage cluster approach.
“Tiny houses are not necessarily the solution, but definitely part of the solution” to the housing crisis, Watson said. “So there’s a lot of opportunity for infill and cottage clusters.”
Planning Commissioner Ryan Lampi, a building contractor, took issue with a proposed ban on exterior plywood, vinyl and synthetic stucco. Cronin argued the sidings do not hold up in the local environment or aesthetically fit.
Bridgens and Lampi, noting that their homes use the forms of lower-grade siding, argued that upkeep determines their quality. But Cronin said most of the city’s derelict buildings where owners are not keeping up on maintenance include the siding.
“Under the new nuisance code, which includes the new derelict building ordinance, there are seriously degraded structures in town,” he said. “The problem is we don’t have a grant program to help replace that siding. The owners aren’t just doing it.”
After nearly three hours of back-and-forth with Cronin, the Planning Commission tabled discussion on the code amendments. The commission also continued other master planning discussions concerning residential properties between U.S. Highway 101 and Spur 104 and the Warrenton-Hammond School District’s new Dolphin Avenue K-12 campus to an October meeting.