The Hood River County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to open a small door within a wide issue.
By a 3-2 vote, the commissioners approved measured changes to the longstanding accessory building portion of the county zoning ordinance, dealing with design and use of what are known as “secondary” structures on properties where houses are located.
In particular, the board decided to allow additions of kitchens and full baths to accessory buildings.
The commission has yet to tackle the larger, tougher issues of rental and occupancy of smaller structures located along with homes.
The board dealt with the accessory buildings issue in 2012, with contentious discussions over larger changes to the county zoning ordinance affecting accessory dwelling units.
In August, the board then asked the planning department to come back with revised recommendations.
What County Planner Eric Walker brought to the board on Monday was a scaled-down proposal that he said contained provisions “generally supported by the board or not met with much objection by the public,” adding that due to “current time constraints the staff has been unable to work with the planning commission to revisit these issues and most likely, will be unable to in the near future.”
The issues include building size limits, and whether or not to allow renting of guest quarters, all of which are being set aside to another day, Walker said.
Four people testified on the recommendations, generally urging reduced restrictions. At ends of the spectrum were Don Nunamaker, arguing that restrictions should not be added unless they can be enforced, and Scott Franke of the Hood River Valley Residents Committee, who stated that the full letter of Walker’s recommendations should be enacted, including the prohibition of kitchens or full baths.
Commissioners Karen Joplin, Les Perkins and Chairman Ron Rivers voted in favor of a motion put forth by Perkins concerning three sections within the zoning ordinance: buildings accessory a dwelling (Section 55.65), setback requirements (55.70) and agricultural buildings and equine facilities (55.75).
The action followed Rivers’ unusual step of seconding Perkins’ motion to allow a full bath and kitchen in accessory buildings such as barns or garages that are designated for uses other than accommodations. Walker had recommended no kitchen and half-baths only.
“Can the chair second it?” asked Meyer.
“Yes,” responded legal counsel Will Carey.
“Wow, that’s a new one for me,” Meyer said, laughing.
Maui Meyer and Bob Benton found themselves in the rare case of voting together.
After the vote, Meyer laughed and said, “I’m on the farthest side of the spectrum! You’re on one and I’m on the other. That was so good. Yikes!”
After 90 minutes of deliberation including about 20 minutes of testimony, the board inconclusively discussed varying levels of regulatory stringency, as well as the inability of the county to enforce misuse of accessory dwellings as temporary living quarters.
“I don’t know if we’re ever going to come to an agreement, but if someone would form a motion,” urged Rivers. “We can start with that; we all have our feelings here, but last time I checked it was still a democracy.”
Perkins had argued for “something simple” in terms or regulations, “a garage to take a shower, maybe with laundry facilities,” and he invoked his own family’s practices while growing up near Odell, recounting how his parents set up a canning kitchen in their accessory dwelling.
Joplin called for deed restrictions on property, documentation that would make it clear what the allowed uses are for accessory buildings when the property changes hands, along with extra charges for building a kitchen or bath.
Meyer concurred, saying “I want an accessory dwelling conversation. I want to hack this into an accessory dwelling conversation, but I tend to agree with (Joplin’s) thoughts on deed restrictions — that this (documented use) travels with the property.”
He asked Walker, “Is a deed restriction an effective tool in this case?”
Walker said it would ameliorate concerns when someone buys a property they think has two residences on it and then find out that the secondary building, as a dwelling is “an illegal part” — to which Meyer interjected, “a residence and a headache.”
Walker added, “A deed restriction would certainly alleviate that issue, but the other concern we heard a lot about was the conversion of the accessory buildings into improper dwelling units, and I think if there are opportunities to provide full bathrooms and kitchens in these accessory buildings I think what you are left with is an improper dwelling.
“So I think even though we are not having that conversation about improper dwelling units, by default we may actually be allowing those, through an allowance that would provide for these full bathrooms and kitchens.”