Astoria weighs code changes for housing

·3 min read

Jun. 29—The Astoria Planning Commission was generally supportive Tuesday of development code amendments designed to remove barriers for new housing construction and is expected to make recommendations to the City Council in the coming weeks.

When Astoria's population tipped over 10,000, the city became recognized as a medium-sized city, which came with rules set by recent changes in state law.

The changes, which are intended to increase housing affordability and availability across Oregon, include allowing duplexes on residential lots that allow single-family homes. The city must also expand opportunities for lot divisions for middle housing, which enables units in duplexes and triplexes to be sold individually.

The changes must be adopted by the end of the year to avoid the state code automatically taking effect. The city is also using the opportunity to incorporate recommendations made in Clatsop County's 2019 housing study.

During a public hearing on the amendments, Megan Leatherman, the city's community development director, offered a higher level view of the draft and presented community feedback from stakeholder meetings and listening sessions. The Planning Commission is expected to comb through more of the details when it meets in July.

Leatherman said there was a wide spectrum of community feedback, but that the majority of people fell in the middle and supported expanding housing as long as the character of Astoria and its neighborhoods is maintained. She also noted that most of the city's buildable land has been developed, so the changes would encourage infill.

"These are expected to create incremental changes over time," Leatherman said of the amendments. "The changes here are not going to be something that we all see and feel overnight. It will be something that probably will be seen in a couple more decades more fully."

The amendments include making multifamily homes, which include three dwellings or more, permitted outright in medium- and high-density residential areas instead of conditional. Duplexes will be allowed everywhere single-family homes are allowed.

Cottage clusters, which usually have shared open space, would be permitted outright in residential and commercial zones.

Parking for homes would be calculated by the number of bedrooms, which would reduce parking requirements, but not significantly.

Other changes include removing the permit requirement for accessory dwelling units, reducing lot sizes and removing lot coverage requirements to make adding accessory dwelling units more feasible. To prevent larger than typical homes from being built as a result of removing lot coverage requirements, a maximum lot size was added to the draft. Setbacks would guide the buildable land.

Planning commissioners were supportive of prohibiting homestay lodging in low-density residential areas and making it conditional in medium residential areas instead of permitted outright. Currently, homeowners in those areas can apply for licenses to rent bedrooms in their homes to tourists.

In commercial zones along the Columbia River and Port of Astoria, hotels would be allowed under conditional use instead of permitted outright. The change would allow the public to have the opportunity to weigh in prior to a building permit being issued.

Commissioner Cindy Price said she was happy to see the restrictions on homestay lodging. She expressed concerns about narrow streets that already lack parking.

Commissioner Sean Fitzpatrick echoed the importance of parking.

"As a housing provider, I have noticed there are diverging trends," Fitzpatrick said. "Twenty years ago, my tenants averaged a car and we had a few tenants that didn't have a car. Today, I have a large number of tenants that don't have a car and a large number of tenants that have multiple cars. So the need for ... off-street assigned parking is important."

Commissioner Brookley Henri said she felt torn on the issue of parking, but leaned toward the recommendation of reducing the requirement. Henri, who works for a civil engineering firm and landscape architect, noted that there is a belief that single-use vehicles will decline or get smaller.

"Although I realize that parking is important, I wish it wasn't," she said.