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Medford considers housing development code changes

Reason for amendments is state legislation pertaining to affordable housing, multi-unit dwellings

Medford City Council will consider two changes in the municipal code meant to ease development of specific types of housing.

Councilors voted unanimously to move forward with the proposals during their Thursday meeting. Both proposed amendments would update the city’s land development code and are based on bills signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown in 2021.

One amendment, titled “Affordable Housing,” would be for development of affordable housing while the other, “Middle Housing Land Divisions,” is aimed at developments that would create multi-unit dwellings.

Council staff reports about each cite the goal of increasing available housing in the city by preserving and promoting development of “safe and affordable housing choices in Medford that meet the needs of its current and future residents.”

An affordable housing code amendment is based on Senate Bill 8, which requires local governments to allow development of some forms of affordable housing on land not zoned for residential uses, such as industrial or commercial.

Carla Paladino, the city’s principal planner, explained that SB 8 defines affordable housing as residential property where the units are made available to households with incomes of 80 percent or less of the area’s median income or “the average of the units are available to households with incomes of 60 percent or less of area median income.”

The bill requires local jurisdictions to permit affordable this type of housing that would be owned by such entities as a public body or non-profit corporation “organized as a religious organization.”

It allows permit exceptions to these developments, such as locations zoned for heavy industry.

Developers could also increase the density of certain types of affordable housing or reduce density and height allowances to “address a health, safety, or habitability issue or to comply with a protective measure related to a statewide land use planning goal.”

The other code amendment would bring the city into compliance with Senate Bill 458. This bill focuses on land division and is considered a companion bill to House Bill 2001.

HB 2001 was approved by state legislators in 2019 as a way to provide more housing by subdividing single-family detached residential zones for multi-unit housing.

Habitat for Humanity of Oregon in May of 2021 described SB 458 and HB 2001 as a way to further encourage construction of “affordable entry-level homes and deliver a broader spectrum of home ownership options that fit the budgets of more working families.”

SB 458 calls for such developments to be provided expedited land division by the local government in 63 days instead of the current 120 days.

“The application would be reviewed as a Type II, Planning Director’s Decision as a public hearing may not be held for expedited land divisions,” Paladino said.

Senate Bill 458 takes effect on July 1 so the amendments should be in place in June.

“If the code is not amended by the end of June then the city would use the bill language to process a middle housing lot division under SB 458,” Paladino said.

Councilors will be focusing on specific wording for these amendments later this month.