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Zoning change could encourage low-income housing

The city is contemplating relaxing the permit process for building accessory residential units in hopes of stimulating the supply of rental units in the city.

The Planning Commission met Tuesday night in a special legislative hearing to decide whether to recommend amendments that would treat accessory residential units (ARUs) of less than 500 square feet within a residence as an outright permitted use. The amendments would apply to several zones including single-family residential, suburban, rural, Normal neighborhood and North Mountain neighborhood, according to the draft document.

The amendments would cut down the processing time and application fees for a site design review of up to $816 — instead, it would only require a building permit, which staff said would potentially encourage homeowners to create more smaller housing units in the lower density zones. It also proposed to adjust the parking requirement for ARUs to be consistent with the cottage housing ordinance.

“We have the City Council’s strategic plan …, the comprehensive plan … and the 2012 housing analysis all pointed to the need to address our deficits in low income and workforce housing units,” said Maria Harris, city planning manager.

The amendments, Harris said, also relied on Senate Bill 1051, which passed in 2017. The bill gives guidance to counties and cities in providing flexibility to build new ARUs. It discourages requiring a minimum lot size, building design standards outside of a historic districts, off-street parking, owner-occupancy of the property and separate sewer and water connections.

Ashland has allowed ARUs since 1991 and has approved a total of 191 units. In 2017, 17 units were approved.

The commission supported the goal of the amendments at the meeting, but the commissioners divided sharply on parking requirements as the current drafted amendments don’t require off-street parking if on-street parking is available within 200 feet of the property.

Commissioner Troy Brown Jr. said he’s wary that the amendments would open up parking issue in residential neighborhoods. He explained the number of houses could exceed the number of available on-street parking spots, creating a “first come-first serve” issue.

“Let’s take care of parking up front,” Brown said. “There are lots that are large enough to do it — but let’s not give a blank check to everybody. … Everyone complains about parking in the city, including us. Let’s not add to the problem.”

His suggestions was supported by Commissioners Hayward Norton and Lynn Thompson. Norton also suggested cutting back front yards to make room for parking; the idea was shut down quickly.

Commissioners Melanie Mindlin, Roger Pearce and Michael Dawkins said they “more worry about not having housing more than not having parking.”

“We are barking up the wrong tree here,” Mindlin said. “These amendments would allow more housing in the city … I don’t see the point of going back to where we were.”

Pearce also said he sees there are different ways to enforce parking, while Dawkins said he’s comfortable with the drafted language that allows on-street parking within 200 feet of property, as property owners don’t own street parking spots.

Norton offered a solution of recommending the current drafted parking requirements with a condition that the city would reevaluate the ordinance after several years.

Thompson also proposed keeping the site design review for units in the historic district. She argued that the current drafted language didn’t give the Planning Commission or the Historic Commission actual authorization to enforce how ARUs are built.

“Right now, it’s just advisory,” Thompson said.

Other commissioners agreed with Thompson’s suggestion.

The commission directed staff to adjust the amendments and present the revised version to the commission before it votes on whether to recommend the changes to the City Council.

—Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.