A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

On ADUs, councilor argues for the aged

Written January 9th, 2020 by Hasso Hering

Albany Councilors Bill Coburn, Dick Olsen and Alex Johnson II, from left, in a file photo from January 2019.

In the year he has been on the Albany City Council, Alex Johnson II has rarely been as outspoken as he was Wednesday on the size of accessory dwelling units or ADUs.

Allowing ADUs up to 900 square feet would accommodate a second bedroom, and this would enable more couples to “age in place.” That is far less expensive than moving into “assisted living.” Johnson could not understand why the mayor and two councilors, Bill Coburn and Dick Olsen, would not allow the aged of Albany that opportunity.

Olsen was worried about bigger ADUs leading to more cars and more traffic. He said it took him half an hour to get from his house downtown to Bi-Mart the other day.

Johnson said it made no sense to deny aged couples the possibility of living out their lives in ADUs, with their families nearby and able to help, on the grounds that they might cause traffic jams. He would not let anyone — “not you, not you, or anyone else” — tell him that not allowing slightly bigger ADUs made any kind of sense.

These are not exact quotes, but they get the gist. To get the full flavor of the exchange, and to appreciate Johnson trying to look out for older people of limited means, you should check out the YouTube video of Wednesday’s Albany council meeting. It should be available under “council meeting materials” on cityofAlbany.net some time Thursday.

The council, as expected, voted 4-2 to overturn Mayor Sharon Konopa’s veto of making several changes in the development code, including allowing ADUs up to 900 feet instead of 750 as allowed for years. That was one vote shy, so the veto stands and the changes are not taking effect. (Coburn joined Olsen in upholding the veto.)

Councilor Rich Kellum said that if someone now appeals the ADU issue to the Land Use Board of Appeals, four councilors would refuse to authorize any city defense. Whether this comes to pass, nobody knows. (hh)

30 responses to “On ADUs, councilor argues for the aged”

  1. My Real Name John Hartman says:

    The idea that our elected officialdom spends this much time arguing about 150 square feet is indicative of where Albany is headed. The City’s population in 20 years or so will be 90-thousand people. Olsen’s trip to Bi-Mart will take all day once the numbers get this big.
    If you’re really “worried” about traffic, then fund the Albany Transit System to allow for 15-minute service day and night. Then, all those 150-foot larger ADUs will house folks who don’t use their cars because “Albany Cares”

    • HowlingCicada says:

      If we (almost all of North America) hadn’t made the mistake of devoting so much land and treasure to creating car-dependent hell, then a population of 90,000 would be as comfortable, dignified, and mobile in the space of Albany as one of 55,000.

      For one thing, the economics would have allowed for a transit system worth using. For another, there would have been ample safe space for alternatives like bicycling, walking, and even skateboarding. America would not have become the land of sub-optimal health due to inactivity and traffic-related stress, and the place where parents need to drive their kids everywhere. That Bi-Mart would have been closer to most homes.

      Sometimes the first necessary step to finding the light is to become aware of and curse the darkness. Almost the entire ADU conflict is really about the deleterious effects of cars and car traffic. There is simply no compatibility between badly-needed greenspace, more cars, and high land prices. We have created a problem with no easy solutions.

  2. J. Jacobson says:

    There is a certain school of belief that “divided government” is best. Ill-advised ideas get mired in the democratic process. This ADU debacle is just another example.

    As to Olsen’s beleaguered trip to Bi-Mart, “…the Portland State University Population Research Center predicts, Albany will grow from 54,055 residents to a metropolis of 91,560…” by 2067.

    The more quickly we can expand the size of ADUs in our backyards, the sooner we can achieve the population growth so desired by Albany residents.

  3. Thomas Aaron says:

    Gee Dick sure is looking pretty aged these days. I sure hope he doesn’t find himself in need of a solution to a future problem he may have denied himself this past evening.

    Basing part of his decision on the observation of how long it took to drive to Bi-Mart is taking a measure with zero context to support a claim. Maybe there was some sort of event, road work, or handful of Californians trying to drive in the rain that day. If you want to go down the road (haha) of purely observable data in regard to traffic on the way to Bi-Mart it might have something to do with having 90% of food and retail service located within 1 square mile of town. That kind of setup would create a mess no matter how many people lived here.

    • cap says:

      A man who can think straight: Finally. I agree with your letter. Also, Dick Olsen lives on 8th St. I believe, near the courthouse, No way did it take him a half hour one way to get to Bi-Mart. He is exaggerating to make his point. Even if he means a half-hour total, to Bi-Mart and back, that is a bit much. There had to be a traffic event as Mr. Aaron says.

      This whole argument is stupid, and here I am, taking part in it. Sorry. Albany and this country and this world will probably never recover from what man has done to it.

  4. Rolland says:

    So, for the State Mandate allowing ADUs, does 750 sq ft meet that mandate or is 900 sq ft needed? I’ve read and heard both sizes are needed to meet the mandate.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      The state does not mandate a size, as I understand it. The law says cities must allow ADUs in certain zones and must not impose restrictions on parking or ownership. Albany’s code language fails to comply with that mandate, which is why the amendments were proposed. The amendments retained the city’s longstanding limit of 750 sf, and when the council majority amended that to 900, the mayor’s veto pen came out.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        The “model code” recommended by DLCD:

        “A detached Accessory Dwelling shall not exceed [800-900] square feet of floor area, or [75-85] percent of the primary dwelling’s floor area, whichever is smaller.”


        Does Albany plan to decrease, or eliminate, the SDCs for ADUs? Seems only fair not to charge infill in the same manner as new development.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          Portland has tried eliminating.SDCs for folks wanting to build ADUs. MINIMAL results! As I’ve oft stated, there has not been & will not be a tidal wave of applications (in any size) due to cost, setbacks, etc… City staff mentioned there were 2 in the hopper now. The horrors…

  5. Bill Kapaun says:

    “Olsen was worried about bigger ADUs leading to more cars and more traffic. He said it took him half an hour to get from his house downtown to Bi-Mart the other day.”

    But what’s the average time it takes him.
    Talking about ONE time is beyond disingenuous.

    I don’t really care either way, but it’s interesting to see the malarky being spewed by “our leaders”.

  6. centrist says:

    AJII makes a sound point. The boomer wave will need housing with some level of assistance. Why not ADU?
    Olsen’s travel-time point is weak. One point does not make a trend.
    Since a minority is insistent with resisting compliance with State regulation, why not seek relief to maintain the status quo?
    Besides, how hot is the ADU market in Albany?

  7. Bill says:

    It seems disingenuous to equate the “Sq ft” argument with the aged. Tell me how is it age discriminatory? Only the aged will be housed in ADUs? Perhaps we need to know the demographics. Maybe ADU occupancy is 99% seniors? Or maybe seniors need more square feet to survive? Oh I know! We’re being racist! That usually gets the job done. How to win any argument?….Cry discrimination.

    • My Real Name John Hartman says:

      I’m with Bill on this.

      Who REALLY knows whom exactly is going to be living in these elephantine ADUs?

      Will there be public access to McMansion ADUs to allow Census 2020 Enumerators easy access to the Brobdingnagian units which, if Hasso’s right, are now just one-vote from liquidating the Albany skyline?

      Or, will we witness the undercounting of Albany residents thereby guaranteeing even less representation than before.

      Keep an eye on the Monday City Council sessions…on COMCAST at Albany Government Channel 23. The best TV is government TV. They are also on Facebook, if you can stomach giving Facebook your information.

      (Heaven forbid citizens could access City Council information without having to join Facebook OR pay Comcast.

      Thankfully, cooler heads have thus far prevailed. As a result, NO high-rise ADUs have begun sprouting in Albany backyards like so many toadstools.

      • Hasso Hering says:

        The council’s twice-monthly Monday meetings are not broadcast. Only the two Wednesday meetings are.

        • NancyM says:

          Are the Council meetings televised still two weeks late on Comcast? (Instead of live?)
          Before I cut the cable 4 1/2 years ago, always thought they were trying to hide some-
          thing by having it delayed two weeks.

          • Hasso Hering says:

            Wednesday night’s regular council meetings (twice a month) are broadcast in real time on one of the Comcast cable channels in Albany and Benton County. Then they used to be rerun every night on those channels until the next meeting. Maybe they still are; I don’t know because I never watch that channel. All the regular council meetings are also available in real time via the Internet (cityofalbany.net/council meeting materials) and then, after a day or two, available as a YouTube video on the city’s website. Work sessions of the council are not broadcast or video-recorded. Voice recordings are available on the city website a day or so after each work session.

      • NancyM says:

        Great idea! Let’s have high rise ADU’s with 750 sq ft allowed each floor. If all of you were really thinking about seniors, wait until you become aged and have to move into
        assisted living at $5,000./month current rates. Shame on all of you. It’s not the traffic
        problem, it’s where to keep your aging parents close by and still let them feel at least
        somewhat independent.

  8. Dave says:

    I find it interesting that, according to Mayor Konopa, her constituency is solidly against expanding the size of ADUs, whilst Councilors Kellum, Sykes and Johnson III, claim to hear the exact opposite from their constituencies. Councilor Ms. Johnson has cited the right for homeowners to do what they want with their land – a valid point in the face of shrinking rights. What strikes me as interesting is that the councilors’ constituencies must clearly be a subset of the Mayor’s. That dichotomy strikes me as a bit odd and seems to be one source of animosity in the debate.
    In my view both “sides” seem to be speaking to quality of life, and both sides are likely sincere in their thinking, that is, the balance between bustle (perhaps activity) and calm (perhaps tranquility). Both sides are steadfast in their positions, though Mayor Konopa should be commended for her composed demeanor in the face of the fomenting emotion exhibited by some councilors.
    Allowing a family to shelter and care for an aging parent sounds perfectly reasonable. And, for families in that situation, the slight increase in people, cars and motion might fade in comparison to having a loved one near in his or her final chapter of life.
    Will all ADUs be used for parents “aging in place?” Likely not. Will there be a “run” on building ADUs? Again, likely not, but I suspect as the population ages the need will only increase. If there were to be a sudden rush to build ADUs, it doesn’t seem logical that a homeowner would decide not to because 750 square feet “just isn’t enough.”
    I do not care for the comments directed at Mr. Olsen, particularly in reference to his age (here and at the council meeting). Olsen is sharp and has depth – make no mistake. Age is not a disability; you’ll find this out when you get there. His comment about how long it took him to get to Bi-Mart is was simply an anecdote – a representation of the problem. As a North Albany resident (not fancy part), there are times of the day that I simply do not try to go anywhere until the traffic subsides. Each year, each month, each day I have watched as the traffic extends outward, in ever-increasing measure along Springhill, North Albany Road and Highway 20.
    Finally, I personally had the privilege of helping my ‘greatest generation’ father “die in place.” A 300 square foot room with sink, toilet and tub and being near his family was all he needed to be happy in his final years. My people favor calm over bustle.

  9. hj.anony1 says:

    750 sq. ft. or 900 sq. ft. Who cares? Assuming there is a need for housing
    our old aging boomer grannies…. Much more affordable with an ADU than housed in an old folks home. So …

    …As long as Albany is throwing dollars at developers, the city should
    do an experiment. Make sure ADUs are built into that new development
    on South Columbus. ADUs for every lot required.

    We can all call that “Future Proofing”!

  10. Richard Vannice says:

    Being one of the “older” members of society I have noticed that no one has made mention, when referring to two story ADU (apartment over a garage specifically) of the difficulty older folks have in maneuvering stairs!
    Does this “minor” problem mean that there will have to be a change in the code to require an elevator?
    Just asking – it’s another thing that would undoubtedly arise for argument.

    • NancyM says:

      Don’t worry about stairs! Just sit in a chair sideways, push a button, and up you go…
      no elevator needed!
      Furthermore, we are NOT” aging boomer grannies” nor are there anymore “old folks”
      homes” at 5K to 10K per mo. It’s time all you former hippies and beatniks woke up and learned to respect your elders!

  11. Ean says:

    The 50% rule seems more of an issue to me than the 750sf or 900sf debate. I get an ADU should be an accessory but hardly seems fair to limit a modest 850 sf main dwelling to a 425 sf ADU. Wonder if one could convert their current modest residence to the accessory and call the new structure the main dwelling?

  12. H. R. Richner says:

    What’s missing, as usual, are any complaints against the mandates of the state. This is, of course, the origin of the controversy. How much longer we are going to put up with this arbitrary regime is what should be discussed.

    • Gordon L. Shadle says:

      And the bigger issue in the context of ADUs is coercive, government imposed zoning and land use restrictions. This is a gross violation of property rights.

      Implicit is the assumption that the right to property and its use is appropriately determined by government decree.

      There is ample scope for non-coercive solutions to zoning issues. But Albany, being a city populated by a lot of sheep, is just too damn apathetic to resist their perceived masters.

      • centrist says:

        Really vitriolic post, well-beyond your norm. Please leave Albanians to find their own way while finding yours in your own locale.

  13. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Good Editorial (albeit unsigned) it today’s Democrat Herald!

  14. Bill Kapaun says:

    If the mayor lost on this, couldn’t she just appoint another bogus committee, such as, “ALBANY ADU ADVISORY BOARD” to throttle the development of such units?

    I wonder if she’s ever told children that they had to “get along with others”?

  15. StephenE says:

    I could get from Broadway SW to Bi-Mart within 30 minutes by bicycle

  16. Ray Kopczynski says:

    Just out – Good article – brings out differing viewpoints also…

    “Permits for in-law flats and other ADUs are down but interest remains high – oregonlive.com”



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