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Affordable housing crisis: Ashland move aimed at increasing housing stock.

Ashland eases rules for adding dwelling units

Accessory Residential Units (ARU) will be exempted from going through the often arduous planning application process if they are under 500 square feet and are within or attached to a single-family residence, thanks to a unanimous vote by the Ashland City Council Tuesday.

The council took the action to encourage home owners to create more rentals in a rental-lean local economy and to address the fact that Ashland has an abundance of single renters or very small families.

The change also allows Ashland to preserve the character of existing neighborhoods, according to Maria Harris, city planning manager, who explained the amendments to existing codes.

Also known as “granny flats” or “in-law units,” the ARUs are experiencing a boom, with Community Development Director Bill Molnar telling the council that 20 percent of current building applications are for ARUs, twice what it was last year. He noted the units rent for $750 to $800.

Chairman Roger Pierce of the city Planning Commission said earlier city code forced applicants to go through site design review, a complex and costly process involving driveway requirements, setbacks and other rules similar to a single-family home, however House Bill 1051 last year said, “If you allow a single family house, you have to allow an ARU.”

Pierce said it’s a “big carrot” for a seller of property in Ashland to have an ARU in the bargain, but buyers want to be make sure it’s approved by the city. In the past, that tangle would require inspections and deals could “come to a grinding halt.”

With new rules, he added, “we might do some public education. These amendments are a good opportunity for people to come in and talk to us and see it you can do an ARU.”

Councilor Stephen Jensen welcomed the change, noting “building here has been branded as tough” and this should make things easier for homeowners.

Councilor Jackie Bachman said “It just makes good sense and it will allow more affordable housing in Ashland. Councilor Mike Morris observed, “It’s been a long time coming and it’s almost here (after the vote).” Mayor John Stromberg called it “a good step for the community.”

The staff report said, “In 2017, Oregon passed Senate Bill 1051 which included a provision that requires cities and counties to allow at least one accessory dwelling unit (ADU) per lot in areas zoned for detached single-family dwellings subject to reasonable local regulations relating to siting and design. The new regulations become effective on July 1, 2018.”

The vote was on the first of two readings. Staff said they would be able to cover expected increase in ARU applications from existing resources, that is, with no new money.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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