Commissioners zero in on rules for accessory dwellings in SH

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home Planning Commission last week wrapped up a discussion about regulating accessory dwelling structures and will soon begin the public hearing process.

Under a new state law, property owners will be allowed to construct accessory dwelling structures beginning July 1. The commission is working on developing regulations by then.

“We just need to have standards that are clear and objective, meaning that we should just be able to look at plans and know if it complies with the standard – yes or no,” said Community and Economic Development Director Jerry Sorte. “If we have to apply discretion, meaning if we have to apply legal judgment or weigh if something is or isn’t, then it doesn’t comply with Senate Bill 1051.”

“It’s kind of a bummer that they’re going to turn our R-1 zone into an R-2 zone,” said Chairman Lance Gatchell. “They really seem to be thinking about places like Portland and Salem, larger cities where there really is a lack of housing and lack of room to grow. It’s not the case here. It seems like the population limits that they put on these were really, really low compared to what they thought. The intent was, I think, to alleviate that housing crisis that we don’t really have here.”

“I think Sweet Home’s unique,” said Commissioner Anay Hausner. “I think we have a lot more land than most small cities have compared to what I’ve seen and what I’ve researched. We went to the tiny house thing in Silverton. They’re worse off than we are land-wise. We have people in Roseburg talking the same thing.”

The commission will hold a public hearing before making a recommendation to the City Council, which will hold its own public hearing. After that, the council must hold three readings of the proposed ordinance on at least two different dates before deciding whether to adopt the ordinance.

The commission spent significant time during its regular meeting on April 2 discussing the off-street parking requirement, design standards and whether the property needed to be occupied by the property owner.

The commission quickly agreed to several regulations: a 3:12 or greater roof pitch, no specific siding requirements, a 15-foot rear setback, a maximum size of 864 square feet and a maximum height of 20 feet.

Any properties that have non-conforming structures, such as a substandard number of parking spaces, would need to be upgraded prior to adding any accessory dwelling units.

The commission agreed that owner occupation of the property is not required, but it would require a new parking space on the property.


“The big question that I had was the state recommendations that there not be a requirement for off-street parking and our recommendation that there would be a recommendation for off-street parking,” Gatchell said. “That seems like an important point to try to figure out.”

SB 1051 “was designed to increase housing,” Sorte said. “People will increase housing if it is easier rather than harder. The state has identified what they see as barriers to effectively implementing 1051, and a barrier they’ve identified is parking. If you require a person to put parking in, you increase costs. From the state perspective, it probably makes it so you don’t get as many accessory dwelling units as you would otherwise.”

The commissioners said they still prefer to require an off-street parking space, noting that a couple living in an an accessory dwelling structure will have two or three vehicles.

Hausner asked Sorte whether anyone would complain and whether the state would object to the requirement.

“It just has to be clear and objective,” Sorte said. “The key thing to remember is that we send this through our own public process. We’ll get some press, and we’ll let people know that if they have an issue, they should come to our public hearing and let the Planning Commission know. Then they get another shot at it at the City Council too.

“There’ll be two public hearings. This body, appointed by the City Council, it’s really kind of your role now to (talk about) these issues and make a recommendation that you think is best for the city.”

“Right now, the avenues we’re OK – you can take your turns going up and down and meeting cross traffic, but if people were parked bumper to bumper, parallel parking on 5th Avenue, it’s a one-way street,” said Commissioner Henry Wolthuis. “If there wasn’t that there are places that you could move over and let somebody come, it’s not a two-way street. Most of the avenues are the same.”

Hausner noted that her neighbors have large trucks in the 46th and Airport area, which are parked on the street and reduce the street to a single lane.

“The problem is too, that everybody’s got a two-car garage, but nobody parks their car in the garage,” said Commissioner Greg Stephens. “They park it in the driveway or the street. The garage is full of junk.”

Design Standards

Commissioners found the idea of setting design standards difficult because the standards must be “objective.”

They discussed requiring the style, siding and other materials to be similar to the primary house or better.

Because those kinds of requirements are relatively subjective, Sorte suggested that the commission could specifically allow or prohibit specific types of siding.

Wolthuis suggested prohibiting corrugated metal, for example, but Hausner said that metal siding and mixed industrial styles are increasingly popular among millennials, noting that the commission is planning for the future.

Wolthuis said he’s seen restaurants that use metal siding tastefully.

It would be easy to miss a couple of materials when developing a list, Hausner said, and it would need to be updated regularly with changing technology.

Sorte said that even without design standards, a building must meet building codes.

“These people invest in this,” Hausner said. “It’s going to look better than the home that you’re currently in because it’s brand new, regardless if you build it yourself or have a manufacturer do it.”

Requiring similar design causes another problem if a primary house is less appealing, commissioners noted.

“You don’t necessarily want to limit people to having to keep it the way it is if it’s not that great,” Gatchell said.

“One way to think about it, Planning Commission should weigh what would be likely to occur,” Sorte said. Requiring parking is a financial hurdle. Building codes and inspectors are hurdles too.

‘The question would be is what do we think is likely in light of those hurdles?” Sorte said.

“As many hurdles as we have, the people that are going to be coming in here to do this sort of construction are going to want to do it so it looks nice,” Gatchell said.

Owner occupation

Following a lengthy discussion, in which the majority of the Planning Commission leaned toward requiring an owner to occupy one of the units on a property, the commission decided it did not want to regulate the occupancy of the property.

Wolthuis said he has lived in a house he had to rent out for a year or two until it sold, and he opposed creating that kind of hardship on property owners.

“The idea is you don’t need an accessory dwelling if you don’t live there,” Gatchell said. “You’re turning the R-1 zone into an apartment zone.”

“I don’t know if my neighbor next door who lives in California sees a sly way to get an extra $600 a month,” Hausner said. “I don’t agree with that.”

“That’s the idea, to try to stop people from just building two houses in an R-1 zone as rentals,” Gatchell said.

“What does the term ‘accessory’ mean?” Sorte asked. “The way that we’re headed, how is this not just two houses on a parcel?”

“I disagree with the requirement for it to be owner-occupied just because people often have to move away and then have to rent their premises for a period of time,” Wolthuis said.

Hausner asked whether the city could create an exemption for such hardships.

“I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to be the judge of the value of somebody else’s hardship,” said Commissioner Eva Jurney.

Hausner wondered what would happen if the economy were to tank again, imagining moving to Salem to be closer to work. She wouldn’t be able to rent out her home if she had a renter in the accessory dwelling.

Meanwhile, buying a home in Salem, she would face two mortgage payments, Wolthuis said. “You should be able to rent it out. You’d bankrupt somebody if they had to move away and couldn’t rent their vacant house.”

After discussing timelines for public hearings, the commission returned to the subject.

“I think Henry made a good argument not to do it,” Gatchell said.

“I think it’s a good idea not to,” Stephens said. “It’s not fair. I’d like it to be.”

“With Henry’s explanation I don’t agree that it should be owner (occupied),” Hausner said.

“I would prefer for the owner to occupy, but I understand the arguments and I don’t have a good counter argument, at least not right now,” Hausner said. “I’m OK to go with the majority.”

“I’ll go with the majority,” said Commissioner Edie Wilcox.

Commissioner Thomas Herb was absent from the meeting.

For more information about accessory dwelling structures, call the planning office at (541) 367-8113; drop by the office at City Hall, 1140 12th Ave .; or visit the Community and Economic Development Department at