HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

ADUs: The dispute that keeps on going

Written March 12th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

There’s what you might call an improvised and unauthorized ADU in back of the lot where the city demolished a problem house at 610 Sherman Street S.E.

Early in Wednesday’s Albany council meeting, a neighbor complained about people living on the lot where the city on Jan. 27 demolished a house declared to be dangerous because of code violations. And near the end there was another fruitless argument about the size of accessory dwelling units the city should allow.

Except that they almost book-ended the meeting, the complaint and the argument had nothing to do with each other.

As for 610 Sherman (the photo above is from Feb. 18), the city intends to foreclose on the property for unpaid liens but has not done so. It can’t fence the lot because it does not own it. But a case brought by the city would declare the lot to be a “specified crime property.” That is pending in circuit court, and if the city prevails, it can take steps to secure the property.

The ADU discussion came up because of the impasse between the mayor and four council members over the size of accessory dwelling units. The council has twice approved an ordinance to bring Albany’s development code in line with new requirements of state law. Both actions went beyond what the state requires by allowing ADUs up to 900 square feet if they meet setback requirements. And both were vetoed by Mayor Sharon Konopa, who insisted on keeping the current ADU maximum size of 750 square feet.

Because the vetoes left the code technically out of step with state law, the Portland land-use advocacy group 1000 Friends of Oregon last month threatened to petition the Land Conservation and Development Commission to find Albany in violation.

Wednesday’s question before the council was what to do about that. Community Development Director Jeff Blaine had spoken with someone at 1000 Friends and said they would accept the amendments the council had previously passed to fix defects in the city code, even without a 900-foot maximum size.

But the council majority and mayor could not agree on various size compromises offered by both sides.  The argument became louder as the minutes inched by. Eventually the council voted 5-1 to do nothing about 1000 Friends. Councilor Bill Coburn voted no.

The city staff has been permitting ADUs according to state law, ignoring outdated code requirements for additional parking and owner-occupancy of one of the two units on a lot. So the lack of compliance with the state is only on paper.

If LCDC eventually sanctions Albany for non-compliant code language, Blaine said land-use related grants to the city might be in jeopardy and past grants might have to be paid back,  but he didn’t have specifics.

Councilor Mike Sykes charged the mayor with being willing to take a financial risk with taxpayer money. But presumably that would apply to both sides in this dispute. (hh)


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9 responses to “ADUs: The dispute that keeps on going”

  1. J. Jacobson says:

    Hering opines: “Councilor Mike Sykes charged the mayor with being willing to take a financial risk with taxpayer money.

    Isn’t this what ARA/CARA does on a regular basis?

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “…take a financial risk… Isn’t this what ARA/CARA does on a regular basis?”

      Nope. That’s not how TIF works…

      • J. Jacobson says:

        Is TIF some new-fangled game of chance, or is rebooting the downtown core just a crapshoot?

        • Steve Reynolds says:

          CARA is an insurance policy against compression, plus you get to enjoy a nice down town, in theory you’re using those precious tax dollars to enhance the livability of your community and keep property values up for the whole community instead of having to spend those same dollars on additional law enforcement and incarceration housing to enforce law in a blighted area. TIF is just a way of paying for it by A) taxing the subsidized property improvements in the designated area above the limits of the assessed value to pay off the bonds, and B) keeping the real market values above the assessed values of the other properties in the district that are in peril of falling below the assessed value. The worst thing for the city is when the county has to tax against the real market value or discount the levies because the spread between the assessed value and the real market value isn’t enough.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          Just a tad bit more: https://www.cityofalbany.net/cara

  2. Cheryl P says:

    For probably the first time, I agree with the Mayor. ADU stands for “accessory” dwelling unit, NOT additional dwelling unit. The purpose of the ADU, depending on its location, is to provide independent space for an aged parent or parents or generate a little extra income by turn unused an unused garage attic into a living space for a single person (I used to live in one). 900 square feet…that’s a lot more than an ‘accessory’, that’s about the size of a standard 2-bedroom apartment.

    I realize that we have a housing crisis, but it seems to be that the crisis is less about lack of actual housing, and more about the lack of affordable housing.

  3. Steve Reynolds says:

    Does not seem the ADU argument is going to mean a lot in the near future.

    I remember not too long ago Councilor Kellum warning against spending and he eerily warned about recession, something to the effect there’s always going to be one in the future, with this current issue and the stock market in free fall, it looks ominous.This downturn is going to take a while to come back from, the “experts” are saying at least a couple years. Unfortunately because our local government/school borrowed so heavily, especially with that last bond which we clearly couldn’t afford, we didn’t keep our powder dry so to speak. Our city reserves are mostly non-existent, and we’re facing an 11 million dollar deficit even before this event. There’s no doubt we’re going to see a slow down, I anticipate we’ll see some pressure on housing and a potential corresponding compression situation like we saw in 2008 and 2009, especially since the assessed values are so much closer to the real market values this time around due to compounding. As you know, we have to pay the bonds first and then we get taxed on 1.5% of the real market value and then if there’s anything left, we can fund the levies. We all know, our tax system can make draconian cuts to local government in a downmarket and really punishes those municipalities that are not fiscally conservative. One of our issues is, we have almost doubled our tax obligation on residents since the Great Recession, that’s a lot of pressure on residents to perform, add in the new Salem carbon legislation with high regulation cost, 60% increases in efficiency for new construction, special state specific fuel formulas, relying on relatively new high cost green technologies and it could get pretty tough. I’m also curious to know what the projection will be in increased PERS obligations with this new bear market, right now I believe we’re projected at 33 cents out of every tax dollar coming in allocated to PERS, does anyone know if this figure will be adjusted up? I can already feel the psychological effect, many are looking at their 401k’s, IRA’s, mutual funds and seeing 30% reductions in values in just a few weeks, the most common response will be to pull back, shut down spending in their personal households.

    I fear the city will try to “save” itself and look to levy even more just to keep things going short term even if it means taking more capital out of the local economy or doesn’t even work because of the Measure 5 constraints. Exactly the opposite of what needs to happen, as a life boat is taking on water, you don’t add more water to the back of the boat hoping to raise the front. Not too long ago it was suggested the city go back to the basics, and then add “bells and whistles” services based on revenue left over, this idea seems to have even more merit, try to get things back into balance.

    On the national level the good thing is, we learned from 2008 and 2009, our banks are well capitalized because they were so conservative since the Great Recession, we’re not facing the liquidity issues like before, but how is this for irony? The City of Albany had solid reserves during the Great Recession, it was the reason it got through relatively unscathed, kind of the main fiscal policy under Wes Hare, you have to have reserves. Somehow things have completely changed this time around and we no longer have those reserves to fall back on, I do not envy our new city managers job.

    Just a disclaimer, I am reading the book “Strong Towns” as supplied by Ray K and it is influencing myself on how I view the “building of cities”, I hope to read in the future the counter arguments to the current perceived flaws in building as pointed out by the author.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “I can already feel the psychological effect, many are looking at their 401k’s, IRA’s, mutual funds and seeing 30% reductions in values in just a few weeks, the most common response will be to pull back, shut down spending in their personal households.”

      Then don’t look at the daily market swings. You can’t control it and you can give yourself ulcers watching the volatility. LOL If you’re in it for the “short term,” you should have some concern. Long-term fans do not have to worry. It will *always* come back (over time).

      “Not too long ago it was suggested the city go back to the basics, and then add “bells and whistles” services based on revenue left over…”

      If that is a rigid/pure black or white proposition, it will never work. So which services are you going to cut if you were El Jefe?

      ” I am reading the book ‘Strong Towns’ as supplied by Ray K and it is influencing myself on how I view the ‘building of cities’”

      Great read[!], but I haven’t come across (in his book) the solution you indicate above. Yes, you have to build (rebuild) cities *Many small changes over time*, yes, but wholesale “Just Say No” to everything I don’t see/read…

      My disclaimer: I used the terms “always” and “never.” That’s common sense proven by history for the two items discussed. :-)

  4. Steve Reynolds says:

    “If that is a rigid/pure black or white proposition, it will never work. So which services are you going to cut if you were El Jefe?”

    You’re going to get this under control or the market is going to control it for you. Many of these services never existed, borrowing and increased levies to finance long term growth of public services is unsustainable. I suggest starting with a blank sheet of paper figure out the basics after taking all the compulsory obligations you have to pay and see what we have left, get our finances back in balance. Like I said, I don’t envy the city managers job.

    Perhaps go ask the folks at the next school board meeting that supported borrowing so much against the credit card, what their plan is now? Don’t ask me to fix their mess and be the bad guy. If you’re going to get the torches and pitch forks out make sure it’s against those that caused the problem.

    I think we as a community made the biggest mistake by not pushing back against those that showed up and attacked our councillors that were trying to be fiscally prudent, we said nothing and now it looks like we’re going to be doing some rebuilding of our financial house.

    As far as the psychological effect, that horse has left the barn, just look at our local panic buying.

 

 
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