City debates growth issues


News staff writer

July 29, 2006

Hood River resident Jurgen Hess lugged two paving stones into Monday’s city council meeting to demonstrate a point.

He wanted officials to know that even the small squares of cement failed to provide a truly permeable surface. He said there were other driveway alternatives that would more effectively prevent water runoff.

“Make sure you have some good standards for permeability. If you don’t you won’t get what you want,” said Hess.

At the hearing on changes to the zoning code, the council agreed to adopt the environmentally friendly engineering standards that Hess submitted.

They also decided to give a 75 percent credit on the square footage of a driveway constructed with Grasscrete, a free-draining paver, only with a rear garage. Use of other pervious surfaces would allow for a 50 percent credit with a rear garage.

That footage would be added to the footprint of a structure for a new maximum lot coverage standard. The elected body agreed that single-family residences should take up only 40 percent of a property. With a front porch that percentage increased by three percent and went up an additional five percent with a rear garage.

The focus of the council was to follow the wishes of a recent citizen visioning survey and create more open space. Toward that end, they moved parking at bed and breakfast establishments to the side or rear of the building.

Officials also voted to provide neighbors with more of a voice by allowing townhouses only with a conditional use permit.

The July 24 hearing brought plenty of praise from citizens for changes that were intended to preserve the historical character of the town.

“I’m urging you to be forward-thinking. Because 20 years ago who would have thought we’d have this much growth?” said resident Anika Juras.

But there was also dissent on some or all of the proposed zoning changes.

Councilor Paul Cummings objected to the city’s stand against front facing garages. He said his Pine Street home had a garage next to the roadway and he liked both the convenience and being farther away from pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

“I value my privacy and my security. I personally don’t care if the person walking down the street likes my garage,” said Cummings.

Realtor Craig Colt said it was “disturbing” that city officials were putting more restrictions on land use. He said adding even more zoning guidelines would just drive housing prices up even further.

“You need to make more land available to build apartment complexes and then we’d have more affordable housing for people,” said Colt.

But most of the evening’s discussion centered on what standards should apply to an accessory dwelling unit.

The council was unable to determine whether 800 square feet was an acceptable size for a secondary dwelling, or was too large. They also could not decide what design standards could be applied without making development an onerous regulatory process.

The issue was tabled until Cindy Walbridge, planning director, could bring back a list of proposed criteria. The council did agree that RVs, manufactured homes and trailers should not be used as an accessory dwelling.

The purpose of allowing the conversion of a garage or a structural addition, said Walbridge, was to provide more worker housing. And private quarters for an aging or needy family member.

She said an added bonus was that money brought in by a renter could be used by property owners to offset the increase in mortgage payments from higher valuations.

Councilor Ann Frodel favored structural guidelines that eliminated a “big box” look. She and some audience members wanted to avoid any construction that clashed with its surroundings.

“I’d like to see some language added so it fits in the neighborhood,” said Frodel.

Councilor Paul Blackburn said many residents approached growth with a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) viewpoint. But there was likely to be a careful approach taken by residents to the conversion of a garage or a structural addition on their own property.

“In this case, it is in fact in my back yard. So, why would I want to build some ugly thing?” he asked.

Cummings disagreed with any requirement that renters of accessory dwellings show proof of local employment. He said requiring a 12-month lease was fine but many senior citizens spend the winter in warmer areas but are still “bona fide” members of the community. He said people who commuted to Portland and other surrounding areas for jobs were also still local residents.

Blackburn noted irony in the council’s attempt to ensure that accessory dwellings weren’t used as vacation rentals. He said officials seemed intent on making sure that renters of the smaller quarters were working locally. But didn’t seem to mind that the owner of the property could move into the smaller quarters and then rent out his/her main house for short term stays.

“It seems silly to me that we’re okay with the owner in the back and the renter in the front. But we’re not okay with the owner in the front and the renter in the back,” he said.

Frodel expressed concern that opening up more rental opportunities might hasten population growth.

“Have you heard that saying, ‘If you build it they will come?’” she asked.

Blackburn replied, “But if you don’t build it, they raise prices.”

Cummings said the council long ago had approved townhouses with the intention these dwellings provide more affordable housing. But that goal had turned into a reality of high-priced residences that towered above neighboring properties.

He hoped the same scenario would not play out if the council gave the nod to accessory dwellings.

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