Up Sucker Creek

Up Sucker Creek
Photo Courtesy of the Lake Oswego Library

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Multi-dwelling development: What is it?

Cluster housing, higher density, creative infill...

There seems to be a "gap" in our develooment codes so that developers cannot build multiple dwellings on a piece of land in the R-0 (high-density) zones.  What the gap really is, and why the city should fill it is a mystery.  The planning department explained that they often get requests from developers to build structures that do not fit into current code, and the city seeks to be "business friendly and provide for a variety of housing types."

I get that developers want to do a lot of things that are not compatible with Lake Oswego neighborhoods and commercial areas, but do we need to change our codes for their benefit?  Uh, no.  Will housing be affordable just because it is multi-family or smaller?  Uh, no.

As for business-friendly, there is a myth that Lake Oswego codes are particularly unfriendly to developers.  This is not true.  Like a lot of other things, this is an issue that is being used to manipulate the system, and us, for a particular, business-friendly outcome.

Here is what was brought before the Planning Commission in a public hearing on Monday night:

"To provide flexibility for development in multi-family dwelling zones to include smaller individual structures containing fewer than three units, the code amendments propose a new "multi-dwelling development" use, which would permit a grouping of individual residential structures where each structure contains at least one unit.  This could include a combination of one, two and three-unit (multi-family) structures, a group of two-unit duplex-type structures, or other combinations.  As with multi-family dwellings, the land underneath the structures would not be divided into separate lots."

What would this new land use type mean?
Developers would be able to shoe-horn in more dwelling units than currently possible into city lots in places and configurations not compatible with neighborhood character or functionality (parking, traffic, housing styles, etc.  We might see:
  • Skinny houses (two separate, narrow houses side-by-side on a city lot)
  • Tiny houses (small houses typically under 800 SF, but can be as low as 200 SF)
  • Micro units (very small studio units connected to larger apartments, or a series of micro units)
  • Cluster housing (also called courtyard housing and pocket neighborhoods - a group of housing units grouped together on one lot)
  • Cottage housing (small, cottage-style homes, typically less than 800 SF footprint clustered together on one lot)
  • Cottage clusters (see above)
  • Higher density (accessory dwelling units turned into rentals, more housing units per lot)
  • Single lots could be condo-ised with attached and detached condos, or could be all rentals or a combination of home-owner and non-family rentals.  
  • Multiple unintended, but predictable, consequences (crowding, lack of off-street and on-street parking, intrusion into established neighborhoods and impact on neighbors, etc.)
Nothing was said in the public hearing about any of these things.  Some might be OK, but some would be a nightmare.  The devil is always in the details, but there were NO details here!

Think about this:
  • There is no minimum size for dwelling units or dwelling structures in Lake Oswego.
  • There is no maximum limit to the number of housing units in multi-family zones.  
Here is a REAL CASE in the First Edition happening NOW:
6 row houses are planned for 4th Ave. between B and C Ave.  There will be studio spaces over the garages. With current code, the spaces can be offices or granny flats for family members.  The developer, knowing about the possibility a new multi-dwelling development code might be approved, has held up his project so that he might make the above-garages apartments, making the 6-unit project 12-units instead.  Unintended maybe, but the density will double automatically - if this code changes is approved.  Unanswered is the question of potential amenity bonuses.  (yuk)

The Planning Commission unanimously agreed not to recommend this portion of ORD 2667.  If you think this plan is not ready for prime time, let the City Council know any time.  There will be a public hearing coming up on this soon - Mark your comments as testimony for LU 15-0010 / ORD 2667.   

For your viewing pleasure:  Prefabs, tiny house community, cottage clusters, skinny houses... See above for other types and cross-over types of multi-family housing that might be used in multi-dwelling developments.  Note:  All homes would have to meet LO building codes.  

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