A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

ADU dispute: Is size really that crucial?

Written January 8th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Here’s a new house with an “ADU” on top of a detached garage at 705 Fifth Ave. S.E.

With Iran launching missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq, it seems ridiculous to write about “accessory dwelling units” or ADUs in Albany, but this website is mostly about local stuff, so what are you gonna do?

Since 2018, four members of the council and Mayor Sharon Konopa have been at odds over the size of ADUs allowed in Albany. The development code says they are limited to 50 percent of the main house, up to a maximum 750 square feet. The council majority wants a maximum 900 square feet.

The mayor twice vetoed council decisions in favor of 900 square feet, and tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 8), her latest veto is on the council agenda for an attempt to override it. It takes five votes to overcome a veto, and unless either Bill Coburn or Dick Olsen changes his stand, the override will once again fail.

It’s odd that the maximum size of ADUs — a difference of 150 sqare feet or one small room — should be such a big deal to the mayor and council. Especially if you look at ADUs that have recently been built.

Take, for example, the new house and detached garage plus ADU that developer Bob Mitchell built at 705 Fifth Avenue S.E., in the Hackleman Historic District.

According to the building permit available online, the one-bath, one-bedroom ADU on top of the garage has 532 square feet of living space. So it falls well within the limit the mayor wants to keep.

But the whole accessory building has a 952 or 1,556 square feet, depending on which entry in the permit form is the one that matters. Either way, the accessory building is bigger than what even the council majority wants as a limit, and yet it looks to be in harmony with the main residence and the neighborhood as a whole.

The ADU has a separate address, according to the city’s InfoHub map. So, if even ADUs much smaller than 750 feet can serve the purpose of a separate residence, why demand a bigger limit as the majority does? And if units way bigger than 900 units can fit in perfectly well in existing neighborhoods, why would the mayor fight the council by insisting on nothing bigger than 750?

The council and mayor have been debating this based on what terrible things they imagine will happen if either side wins. They might relax their respective points of view if they looked at some examples — not just the one on S.E. Fifth, but also on Broadway and Calapooia streets — of Albany ADUs in real life. (hh)

Postscript: As expected, no one on the council changed their minds Wednesday night. The mayor’s veto was upheld, 2 to 4, as before. This may not be the end. Councilor Rich Kellum said if someone takes the city to the Land Use Board of Appeals over the ADU size issue, the four votes against the veto would also refuse to authorize defending the appeal before LUBA. But it’s hard to believe this would actually happen. The size of ADUs is not specified by state law, so the city can regulate it. And development code requirements on ADUs regarding parking and ownership are not being enforced. Instead, the city is following state law on those points. So the only issue someone might raise with LUBA is that the situation is confusing to someone just reading the code. Would LUBA take that up? We’ll see. Maybe. (hh) 

Note how the new house, garage, and ADU at Fifth and Thurston fit in with their neighbors.

18 responses to “ADU dispute: Is size really that crucial?”

  1. Ron Green says:

    This ADU approach, regardless of the current size argument, is a much more sensible solution to affordable (or any kind of) housing than the big-developer model being pushed out at Columbus and Oak Creek. Let’s give small and incremental development a chance!

  2. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Methinks some folks have a belief that if larger than 750sf ADUs arise, they will cause a problem. Please point me to:

    1. A single (one) example of *any* ADU built in Oregon that has caused an increase in requirements for infrastructure (public works, police, fire) of any kind?

    2. Has there been *any* wave of ADU requests in *any* community in Oregon with the 900sf size (or larger)?

    3. Has there been *any* wave of ADU requests in *any* community in Oregon for ADUs of smaller than 900sf?

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    In Corvallis their ADU limit is 40% and not to exceed 900 SF.

    Clearly the Mayor has convincing information she can share that shows 900 SF is a big problem for Corvallis…..right?

  4. Michael says:

    Density matters. Size matters. Single lot dwellings matter. 750 ft is fine for “mother-in-law” housing but if I’d wanted to live in an duplex area, I’d looked at a duplex. Sorry, find another solution to affordable housing. How about a development of tiny lots for tiny houses.

    • Stacey Bartholomew, President CHC says:

      You have a good idea Michael! In fact Creating Housing Coalition is working to bring a tiny house village to Albany. Density is one way to address housing needs, but loss of open space is a huge quality of life thing and the tiny house movement allows for a worthwhile compromise. Especially when it comes to affordable housing and sustainable living. You are welcome to find out more at our January 30 fundraising event where we will have Dan Bryant and others sharing about this idea and how it can work for Albany’s rent-burdened and unhoused population. Creatinghousingcoalition@gmail.com for more details.

  5. Bill says:

    This is about the only time I ever agreed with the mayor and I agree with her 100%. There are already too many neighborhoods in Albany that are absolutely squalid with cars parked in every nook and cranny and it’s nasty.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      In asmuch as they all must conform with existing setbacks, there is no such thing as a “typical” ADU…

      • Bill says:

        You just made my point….No such thing as a typical ADU and the example in the photo should not be taken as such. Very few if any will have such generous parking on site.

    • Benjamin Roche says:

      If you want to look at “NASTY” cities look no further that those on the west coast with teh most restrictive and costly building codes, compliance and permit fees. Restricting land use, building and supply is the problem, creating more living units is the solution.

  6. Bill says:

    …Also, I don’t believe the photo in the article is representative of the typical ADU.

  7. Bill Kapaun says:

    Think of all the additional sewer/water/franchise fees they could collect with larger units.
    That should convince all members of city government.

  8. centrist says:

    BK makes a point that approving ADUs can increase the number of sewer connections.
    Since the treatment plant has performance issues, perhaps getting those issues resolved should be well-above ADUs on the priority list.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      The issues at the plant relate to solid residues, not the treatment of wastewater. Not quite the same thing, I think.

      • centrist says:

        That’s what I understand.
        While the primary purpose of the plant is water treatment, a byproduct is solids that have to be dealt with. More influent means more solids.
        If City is content with landfilling, the point is moot

        • Hasso Hering says:

          They’re not content with landfilling. They’ve been working on a composting solution, though like everything these days it is taking an awfully long time.

  9. Benjamin Roche says:

    A consideration that might not be addressed is accessible design. Wider hallways, turning radius in the bathroom, accessible showers with a seat are all important features if your building an ADU that could be use for assisted living. Why Hasso is right, the size should be less important than the use. How about a compromise by providing a square foot allowance for each accessible feature added to the design.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      Good idea.

      I wanted to rant about car usage in connection with disability, but realized that I don’t have the facts.

  10. Barbara says:

    For ADU’s above garages, how does an elderly person safely get home….up stairs. If property size allows, a 400 Sq foot park model would be more reasonable.


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