A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Extra-house issue still roils Albany council

Written December 5th, 2018 by Hasso Hering

Attending his last regular meeting after seven-and-a-half years on the city council, Ray Kopczynski Wednesday was thanked — and praised — by Mayor Sharon Konopa.

The conditions for allowing detached accessory dwelling units — essentially little houses in backyards — continue to divide Mayor Sharon Konopa from four members of the city council. They’ll try for a compromise in January, but what shape that will take no one knows.

Like other local governments, Albany is supposed to fall in line with a legislative mandate to allow detached or attached accessory dwelling on any lot zoned for single residences. The current city code falls short, and a code amendment to fix this was vetoed by the mayor. Two council members, Bill Coburn and Dick Olsen, support her in this.

Councilors Bessie Johnson, Rich Kellum, Ray Kopczynski, and Mike Sykes have twice voted for the code fix, but it takes five to overcome the veto. The disagreement continued Wednesday, and at times it got a little pointed. Listen to the exchange if you want when the video is posted, probably Thursday, on the council page at cityofalbany.net.

The mayor maintains she is protecting Albany neighborhoods from becoming multi-family districts. She objects to provisions that would raise the maximum size of ADUs from 750 to 900 square feet,  require no additional off-street parking, and drop the requirement that one of the units on a lot be occupied by the owner.

Konopa said she’s heard from lots of people against ADUs and she’s looking out for people living in their neighborhoods. “And we’re not?” Johnson shot back.

To an observer — like me — the whole thing seems like an unnecessary dispute because, among other things, it can’t be cheap to build another house in your yard; so there’s not likely to be a rush to build ADUs; there’s still a permit process and various setback and other restrictions apply; and once a unit is built there’s no way for the city to enforce any owner-occupancy rules.

Besides having the support of four council members, the amendments rejected by the mayor also had twice been recommended by the planning commission. As for finding a way out, Kellum told the mayor, “This is now on you.” (hh)

18 responses to “Extra-house issue still roils Albany council”

  1. J.Jacobson says:

    Kellum blaming Konopa, telling her, “Now this is on you.” Highly reminiscent of Trump’s puffery when he blames the democrats for most things. I just wish the council would spend as much time crafting a plan to repair City streets as they seem to waste ADUs. I realize that being able to domicile granny outback is crucial to Albany’s future, but given the mayor’s intransigence, it seems likely that Granma will have to continue living her life in the melting trailer that’s plugged in and parked on the driveway.

  2. Lundy says:

    There’s sure been a lot of thrashing about on what seems an incredibly low-grade issue. Even if there were zero rules governing these ADUs, probably still hardly anyone would ever want to build one.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    The city charter is the problem. The charter sets up a council-manager, weak mayor form of government.

    The mayor can’t even vote on council legislation except to break a tie, which is consistent with a weak mayor form.

    But the charter then goes on to grant mayoral power to veto any piece of legislation the council passes with consensus.

    The charter needs to be clear about its weak mayor mandate – the council should have both legislative and executive power.

    What needs to change is the city charter. The power of veto can be revoked by the people through the initiative process.

    Albany citizens have the ultimate power to right this wrong. It can be done.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      I disagree. The charter & the process by which the mayor has the veto power is very rarely used. To me, that rarity proves it works. Why? Because we (council) have the opportunity to overturn.

      That we have been unable to (so far) craft a compromise to make that happen, in no way tells me the charter language or process is inadequate…

    • Bob Woods says:

      Gordon, you are absurd. The Council-Manager form is the BEST approach to local government. Day to day operations and research are performed by professionals; people who have a variety of political affiliations, because they do NOT participate as partisans and are not conferred their jobs as political patronage. It would not surprise me that most of the staff in Albany lean Republican.

      The elected Council makes all decisions on the creation of laws and directs the direction that the City goes. Staff CANNOT create laws and regulations on their own, only the Council.

  4. Jim Engel says:

    Just what is the pressing issue with allowing ADU’s??!! I sure don’t want them along our street! Have we not enough vacant grass fields to the east & south where conventional, proper homes could be built?? Perhaps a look at reasonable interest rates & financing ought to be considered to allow beginning homeowners a chance at ownership. That’s is before “slumming” our existing neighborhoods with “ticky’ tacky” shacks!

    • Bob Woods says:

      Jim, there are a whole lot of poor people that cannot afford a conventional home.

      • James Engel says:

        Would you like me to spell out that famous movie line by Rhett Butler!!?? Be a shining example & put all the ADU’s on your property you want.

        • Jon Stratton says:

          Except we can’t, because the mayor, and the people on the council, who share your attitude about not allowing them “on my street” are making it so we can’t put all the ADUs we want on our property. Do you understand how those two attitudes can’t co-exist?

          • Dick Olsen says:

            Wrong Jon. If you’re the home owner, and you can meet the various requirements, you can build that ADU.
            My objection is that the planners want us to allow an absentee landlord to add yet another rental house in the backyard of his or her property in a single family neighborhood. My experience is that my neighborhood, 8th and Broadalbin, has recovered from near-slum conditions in the 1970’s due to rezoning from apartment-house to single family residential. Same old houses, same old streets, same old stuff, but, neighbors who care about me and each other. I’d hate to see it pushed back onto the skids.

    • HowlingCicada says:

      “””Perhaps a look at reasonable interest rates & financing ought to be considered to allow beginning homeowners a chance at ownership.”””

      As interest rates drop, house prices rise, so the cost to beginning homeowners drops little if any. When this vicious circle accelerates, investors force prices to unsustainable levels. That’s part of what went wrong in the early 2000’s, especially in less-sober places like Miami and Las Vegas.

      Very simple, you knew all that. Then why do intelligent people (including President Trump, with a vengence) keep wanting to drop interest rates? Low interest rates are a drug, like meth, soooo appealing at first!

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      “That’s is before “slumming” our existing neighborhoods with “ticky’ tacky” shacks!”

      Current building codes make that an impossibility Jim…

  5. Fred says:

    This is not about building living quarters for poor people. It is about Air B&B’s which is a commercial activity that should not be done in a residential zone, period. Not sure about her motives, but the Mayor winds up in the right place on this one.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      Fred —
      I’ll bet you have home rentals in virtually every neighborhood… State law mandates we now allow ADUs. It’s irrelevant whether or not they eventually get rented…

  6. Rhea Graham says:

    Seems to me that most of the lots in Albany are fairly small. What percentage of them even have enough room to build something in the back yard and still meet setbacks?

  7. William says:

    I also am with the mayor on this. We’re crowded enough without resorting to squalor.

  8. Cheryl P says:

    Simple solution.

    1. You have to have xx amount of property to build an ADU. This includes overall lot size and available space (less home and outbuildings like detached garage, shop, shed, etc).

    2. The size of the ADU is subject to the amount of space available on the property.

    3. The ADU must have it’s own utilities.


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