Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Planning Commission to Consider Code Amendments on Middle Housing and Trees

The Planning Commission meets tonight, Tuesday the 5th, and they've got over 400 pages of proposed code amendments to consider.

More attention to wall clearance (yellow)

With interesting history at the Meyer Farm (and in another, forthcoming note, on a different instance of history), I missed this a little, and so this will be a short note that skates along the surface only. Whoops.

The Staff Report cues it up:

In 2014, the UDC was completed and adopted as Title X of the Salem Revised Code (SRC). The UDC was a complete reorganization and update of Salem’s development codes. The UDC was adopted with the expectation that periodic updates and amendments would be made over time to ensure that any unanticipated concerns with the provisions of the UDC were regularly reviewed and addressed.

The code amendments included with this proposal provide a comprehensive update to the UDC and address a variety of issues that have arisen since the last major update to the UDC in 2019. Included in the proposal are policy-related changes that respond to concerns from the community and recent changes in State law; changes identified by staff to improve the application and administration of the UDC; and minor housekeeping amendments.

Examples of changes include increasing the types and number of poultry that may be kept in the City; expanding the types of residential uses allowed within the City’s residential zones to include middle housing (e.g. townhouses, duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes, and cottage clusters) as required with the passage of State House Bill HB2001; eliminating the General/Retail Office and Front Street overlay zones and incorporating their design review standards into an updated CB (Central Business District) zone with improved design and development standards; allowing managed temporary camping for the homeless and emergency shelters as temporary uses; allowing self-service storage within existing CB zoned buildings in the downtown, subject to limitations on location and design; updating the City’s tree preservation ordinance to increase tree protection and preservation requirements and add to the list of trees species and sizes that meet the definition of a significant tree; and updating the City’s land division ordinance to create a new land division process specifically for land developed for middle housing as required with the passage of State Senate Bill SB458.

Though it may seem "efficient" to bundle and shoot out a firehose of code amendments, the volume makes it difficult for non-specialists to read and understand the changes. It would be easier to digest as several smaller chunks rather than one omnibus package.

On regulatory sludge as a tax - via Twitter

So here are some highlights of the summary, a summary of the summary. 

A lot of the changes are part of a HB 2001 compliance package for middle housing.

On sidewalks, parking, drive-thrus

On transit and parking

Maybe later there will be more time to go through some of them in more detail. They look generally positive on the surface, but it would be nice to have a better sense for how generously the City is interpreting the middle housing requirements in the HB 2001 compliance package. Is this Potemkin compliance, with a restrictive interpretation that will hinder middle housing? Or is the City actually going to encourage middle housing?

More detail on bike parking is welcome.

On trees

There is also a section on tree conservation. In his capacity as a tree advocate, Commissioner Slater published detailed comments last month. He specifically addressed the balance in our housing crisis and tree protection:

As much as I appreciate the City’s proposal to expand the overall percentage of trees preserved in construction from 25% to 50% (I hear it may now be 30%), I feel that need for housing, and increasingly dense housing, precludes expanding the percentage beyond the existing 25%.

This is important so that tree conservation does not have a crypto-function as a NIMBY tool to foil desperately needed housing.

Separately, Commissioner Slater asks for the City to initiate a review of compliance with Statewide Planning Goal 5:

Statewide Planning Goal 5 is intended to protect a jurisdiction’s natural resources, scenic and historic areas, and open space. Goal 5 requires cities to inventory their natural resources and to develop a plan to protect and mitigate impacts on them. Salem’s development code has not incorporated the current Goal 5 standards related to natural resources and relies on potentially out-of-date inventories.

The Planning Commission recently heard a case where the focus of the discussion and appeal was the location of an unmapped waterway and the lack of setback protections to mapped waterways. Through this case, it came to the Commission’s attention that our natural resource inventories, specifically mapped waterways and riparian areas, may be out-of-date and that Salem has not adopted minimum required building setbacks to waterways. Despite the Commission’s desire to protect Salem’s waterways, we cannot apply standards that do not exist and cannot update the waterways map through review of a development application.

He asks for a gradual, phased and incremental update project, since there is no State grant funding for it.

A Goal 5 review would be consistent with climate action and with Our Salem, and this is a reasonable request.

The Planning Commission meets online at 5:30pm this evening, Tuesday the 5th.


Susann Kaltwasser said...

I have listened to at least 4 presentations on the update for the UDC in the past several weeks. One a work session, another a neighborhood association presentation and two more intense presentations with Q&A at the land use meetings, and I think I can understand some of the changes. But a huge problem is that there are no illustrations for a person to be able to visualize what the codes mean in applications. So, for most people they won't know what is being required until they see actual applications with drawings, and by then it is too late.

What is clear is that with the UDC changes and with the proposed zone changes in Our Salem going forward there is going to be less opportunity to comment on, let alone influence any land use decisions. Because once a property is zoned for a specific use, all the developer has to do is meet the applicable codes, and they are issued a permit.

In reality this means that in any current single family zone an applicant can come in to ask for a permit to build a 4 unit dwelling on a 7,000 square foot lot and if they meet all the codes, they will get the permit. No notice to the neighbors or to the Neighborhood Association. Their notice will be when the bulldozers come to clean the lot.

Salem clearly needs more housing, but it is going to come at a price.

Those who believe that an increase in permission to build "middle housing" will result in a reduction in rent or house prices. And yet, not one of those people (including planning staff) can produce one example of the city where this has worked. A Portland city planner a few years ago had to admit that such codes had not had any impact on housing prices. In fact it had resulting in affordable older houses being torn down to be replaced by higher density but more expensive units. Neighbors are outraged, but have no recourse.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

If you think that neighbors should always be entitled to an exclusionary veto on nearby property they do not own, then somewhat more permissive by-right development standards may generally seem like a loss.

But with more restrictive by-right development standards, we will build less housing. That certainly is a loss.

As a person put it in a recent comment on a FB post of yours:
I can't see how Oregon can have both restrictive land use laws and adequate housing if we don't make residential areas significantly more dense. Meaning, we either need to allow more units to be built on land that currently holds just one home or we need to allow homes to be built on farm land. If there is another solution, would someone please explain it to me?

There is in fact research on market-rate housing and its effects on nearby rents. Here on this blog, in a post from last year, "Surveying Themes in Criticism of Missing Middle Housing," there were links to research on filtering and pricing effects in housing markets. At our Strong Town FB group, a person recently posted a discussion and link to "how luxury apartments help low-income renters."
At the blog by the State of Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, they frequently write about housing. Two relevant posts are, "Housing does Filter" and "Why Housing Supply Matters." And in mainstream media, a Portland Tribune piece, "Portland rent increases slow as apartment supply increases."

I'm sure there is other, more recent research on this, as it is an important topic. Parts of it may remain contested or the mechanism unclear, but in general terms it is not at all true that adding market rate supply fails to moderate the cost of housing. (1/2)

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

You may have a focus too narrow. One problem is that some expect price adjustment in a market to be nearly instantaneous. But housing is slower to adjust, prices go up more easily than down, and it is not realistic to expect an immediate price drop in the neighborhood once a new apartment building goes in. Price effects may not be distributed evenly among submarkets: Some nearby places may get more costly, others less expensive as demand adjusts to a change in supply.

From the State of Oregon economics post, "Housing Does Filter": "A key question is whether or not filtering is enough to achieve better affordability overall. The answer is no, or at least not when we are facing a supply shortage of housing. Filtering does certainly work and it does help. However, to the extent that housing is under-built relative to population growth and demand, filtering will be slower and take longer because there are not enough units to go around. That is why one linchpin to the filtering process is to continuously add housing supply, particularly in popular and growing cities and regions."

Finally, you say, "affordable older houses [are sometimes] being torn down to be replaced by higher density but more expensive units. Neighbors are outraged, but have no recourse."

First, the incidence of these tear-downs has been overstated, and they don't happen with great frequency. Second, the alternative to "affordable older houses" is often a gentrified older house. See the restoration of the Buchner House as an example of the loss of affordable housing. (I am working on a new post about another affordable older house that could be torn down and redeveloped, or restored and gentrified. Leaving affordable older houses as-is does not always lead to them staying affordable. This is another reason why we need to keep adding new supply.)