Permit requests indicate building is booming in Linn County

Audrey Caro

The Linn County Planning and Building Department is busy with a building boom.

“We’re so busy, as of now the total number of building permits in Linn County is up 15 percent from last year,” said Director Robert Wheeldon, during an update to the Linn County Board of Commissioners on Feb. 14.

The department does inspections for contract cities, which include Brownsville, Halsey, Harrisburg, Lyons, Mill City, Millersberg, Scio and Tangent.

“Every city except Albany,” Wheeldon said. “Lebanon and Sweet Home does their own building; we do their electrical.”

Permit activity reports that were included with the board agenda list the most activity in Millersburg for the current fiscal year.

Commissioner Roger Nyquist wondered whether he and his colleagues should discuss the need for apartment housing in the county.

“In our area for sure, the supply and demand of multi-unit apartments, if you will, is out of balance, it would seem,” said Commissioner Roger Nyquist. “In our area – the Albany, Lebanon area.”

Wheeldon said his department does not do many of those types of construction..

“There’s so many apartments, it’s hard to believe there’s literally nothing available,” Nyquist said. “The lack of housing where people are employed creates transportation challenges. Would it be appropriate for us to attempt to have a conversation with our cities about incentivizing multi-housing development?”

Nyquist is a member of the Cascades West Area Commission on Transportation.

He asked Wheeldon who would be the best person to talk with about multi-unit housing.

“That’s something for Mr. (John) Pascone (president of the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corp.) to talk to communities about,” Wheeldon said. “We don’t really work with construction stuff. This is kind of a different question. Our other smaller communities don’t tend to come to us with multi-family housing.”

“We did have an argument about this in Salem,” said Commissioner John Lindsey. “The problem with multi-unit housing where the state gets involved is that they are…”

Nyquist interjected that he was not involved in the argument.

Lindsey continued, “funding, subsidizing so that they can alleviate problems in the metropolitan area.”

He said the population the state is concerned about is “not the people we just talked about, where we need to make sure that there’s an available supply of housing for people with jobs.”

Lindsey warned that the state’s interests in “subsidized public housing” may not parallel his own, which is providing for a working population.

“This cheap subsidized state housing is only for one purpose and one purpose only.”

“I’m not talking about becoming the king of the projects,” Nyquist responded.

Nyquist said he disagreed with the proposed solution of rent controls in Portland.

“It’s an issue here in some part that Oregon State’s gone from 16,000 students to 28,000 students,” he said.

He mentioned the transportation impacts of that increase as well.

“I was thinking more along the lines of the waiving of SDC charges or mitigating some wetlands in advance or a shovel-ready multi-unit program,” Nyquist said.

Lindsey mentioned the OSU Cascades campus in Bend as an example of some of the mistakes being made in planning.

“The OSU campus is allowed to build housing and it’s subsidized, once again, by the state, across from a retirement community of condominiums, and I drive by there all the time, without parking spaces,” Lindsey said.

Nyquist mentioned there are also breweries in the area.

“There’s two breweries, you’re right, on that same roundabout,” Lindsey said. “But they have parking lots and now what you have is you have all these housing units without one parking spot for each of those units.”

He said that causes conflict between the various residents as well as the businesses.

Wheeldon said Albany, Lebanon and Sweet Home are in charge of their own planning and building permits, so he didn’t know what they’re doing in those communities regarding multi-family housing.

“The first question to ask is do these communities have areas that are available for multi-family housing, that are properly zoned for multi-family housing and the next question obviously is what would be the incentive for developers to do that?” Wheeldon said.

“I feel a little bit like developers, after the problems in ’08, ’09, 2010, a little bit (dragged) their feet supplying housing. Now that they are supplying housing, you’re talking about incentivizing things or making things easier to do or incentivizing communities to waive some SDC charges that perhaps might incentivize somebody to build some multi-family housing in some of the communities.”

He questioned whether there is “even a demand for multi-family housing in some of these communities?”

Lindsey said there are a couple of hundred units being built in Lebanon and added that Albany had higher vacancy rate a couple of years ago.

“So it ebbs and flows,” Lindsey said, laughing. “Once we restrict visas, I expect Oregon State not to have 28,000 students.”