(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)
Until this week, Portland seemed poised to eliminate one of the many ways it prioritizes housing for cars over housing for people.
For decades, there’s been exactly one way to build a 15-foot-tall structure up to the edge of most Portland property lines: put a car in it.
Want an accessory dwelling unit the same size as a garage? Sorry, that’ll have to be set back five feet from the property line, even if it has no windows or doors facing the property edge.
Bike sheds currently face the same restriction: unlike garages that were designed for cars, bike sheds must be at least five feet away from the property line in all single-family residential zones.
(Though the city’s code describes a garage as a “covered structure designed to provide shelter for vehicles,” the city says that legally, “vehicle” implies “motor vehicle” in this context.)
Since January, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability has been working on a project to rewrite its “accessory structure” code, allowing ADUs and sheds to be built anywhere a similarly sized garage can be built, as long as it’s no more than 15 feet tall at the peak and 10 feet tall by 24 feet wide on any wall close to a property line.
These changes would apply in R-2.5 townhome/skinny zones as well as the more common R-5 and R-7 zones; the large R-10 zones would keep requiring larger five-foot setbacks.
On Wednesday, though, Commissioner Amanda Fritz introduced an amendment that would allow small bike or tool sheds in any situation where a garage would be legal, but not housing units.
Allowing housing units to be built in a spot where a similarly sized car storage unit could be built, she argued, “severely impinges on the property rights of the adjacent neighbors.”
Doubts about light, air, Airbnb
Here’s Fritz’s view in more detail:
I know there is a lot more people who are going to be a lot more people interested in this issue, both pro and con, who aren’t able to be here today. …
In all of when I’m making decisions on the council and elsewhere I think about, would I like this if it was going to happen to me? … The wall could be 10 feet high, 24 feet long, right on the property line on the sides of my property. it would be particularly challenging in my situation because the lots behind me, the lot line is in the center of my back property line. so in fact although it says that each property can only have a 24-foot limitation, I could have two of them sat right next to each other for 48 feet of 10-foot blank wall right on my property line. Since I live on a slope, it would actually be higher than 10 feet, because the properties behind me are at least 10 feet higher than mine. I could then have another one on the other side of my property that would have another 24-foot blank wall, again five feet higher than my backyard, and that would significantly impede on the light, air and separation of my home and my ability to enjoy my property. Not to mention the fact that the owners of the accessory dwelling units would have to access my property to paint the blank walls and otherwise maintain them. …
Commissioner Novick has brought up the issue that since we first did the accessory dwelling unit regulations back when I was on the planning commission, we have changed the regulations for and allowed Airbnbs and other short-term rentals. … so there’s a big incentive for homeowners to use accessory dwelling units not as rentals or low-cost living for relatives, but for commercial enterprises. …
Though we’ve heard a lot of support from those who want to do accessory dwelling units, I haven’t heard any concerns or support from those who are just fine with having these structures right on their property line.
At Wednesday’s hearing, one woman testifying pointed out that Fritz’s nightmare scenario for her property would be just as likely to happen with car storage units under current law; the only difference would be that they would be housing people instead of cars.
Fritz replied that she had initially wanted to ban garages near property lines as well, but was persuaded not to do so because it would bring huge numbers of garages around the city out of compliance with code.
Under Fritz’s proposal, a property owner could still build a small ADU close to their lot line by spending $2,000 for an additional level of city review that would require notifying neighbors of the proposal. That’s also the case today for ADUs and bike sheds, but it’s not required for new garages.
Two of the five city council members immediately spoke in opposition to Fritz’s amendment. Here’s Commissioner Dan Saltzman:
There is an affordable housing crisis in this city right now, and we are sort of slowly putting the nail in the coffin of accessory dwelling units, we the city and the county. We plan to have our SDC waivers expire next year. The county has an interpretation on reassessments of property values when somebody builds an ADU that significantly increases people’s property taxes, and I think this amendment is only going to make, by going through an adjustment committee, as I said one more nail in the coffin of a viable option that’s not being used for Airbnb purposes only. These are people who are living with older relatives, housing aging parents, housing siblings who haven’t made it on their own yet, so I think there’s a lot of valid uses for ADU and we’re slowly killing them off.
Mayor Charlie Hales said he was “initially pretty favorable” to Fritz’s proposal but had changed his mind after talking to “our professional staff.”
The other two council members, Steve Novick and Nick Fish, said they were undecided on the amendment.
Fish said he’s especially worried about the city’s decision to legalize short-term rentals using sites like Airbnb.
“We have greatly contributed to the crisis in our community by allowing people to do short-term rentals instead of long-term rentals,” Fish said.
Novick said he had favored Fritz’s proposal at first but after hearing from other people involved in the process “would like further time to think about it.”
In an interview Thursday, city project manager Phil Nameny described legalizing garage-sized ADUs near property lines as “kind of the most anticipated change we were making” during the process.
‘As close to an unalloyed good for housing as we are likely to find’
Several people involved in the process weighed in by email.
Here’s Chris Smith, a member of the planning and sustainability commission who voted for the proposal when it was endorsed by that volunteer committee:
1) The production of legal, permitted ADUs is as close to an unalloyed good for housing as we are likely to find in Portland. These are compact, sustainable, generally affordable homes that have been demonstrated to be compatible with existing single family neighborhoods. We should be encouraging these as much as we can. The alternative for owners of single family homes to increase the monetization of their property is demolition and development of an even larger single family home, which contradicts our sustainability and affordability goals, and is often objected to by neighbors.
2) I appreciate the concern about absorption of ADUs in the short-term market. While it’s important to understand what’s happening here, and perhaps to amend (and enforce) our short-term rental regulations, this is a concern related to the current market. ADUs built now will have at least a 50-year life, and even if used for short-term rentals during part of their life, may well be available for longer term housing during much of their life.
3) While I respect Commissioner Fritz’ concern about development to the property line, I disagree sharply that addressing it should be based on the contents of the structure rather than its height and mass. A garage built to the property line has the same impact on neighbors as an ADU of the same height and size built to the property line. Portland is a city where parking is often free and housing is expensive. Regulations that favor cars over people are one of the reasons this is true, and we should remove hidden subsidies like the one the proposed amendment would perpetuate.
Here’s Eli Spevak, a local indie developer who specializes in small housing units:
It’s frustrating that Fritz’s amendment would single out ADUs to be excluded from setbacks, even though same-sized structures for other uses (i.e. garages) are allowed within setbacks and have been for years. Heck – we’ve got a housing crisis for people, not cars!
The council decided on Wednesday to postpone any vote until Dec. 2, in order to give Fritz enough time to ask people about it at a Nov. 30 town hall she’s participating in at Portland Community College.
The council will be taking written testimony until then, but in order to save time it won’t be taking further in-person testimony on Dec. 2. If you’d like to weigh in, send testimony to the city council: CCTestimony@portlandoregon.gov..
— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.
UPDATE, 10:00 am on 12/2 City Council voted on this policy today and it passed 4-1 with Fritz being the sole “no” vote.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.
Fritz it afraid of change that affects her… her opinion of how to enjoy a home is her opinion and not that of all residents… there are many people that would love to have a 10′ wall around their backyard… as the article states the neighbors could level the lot and build a huge McMansion that will still block her view AND have second story windows allowing the neighbors to see into her yard thus giving her no privacy…
stop blocking change that doesn’t make everybody happy, because no such change exists… do what’s right for the people, not what’s right for you…
Well, who determines what’s “right” for the people? You’re appealing to a non-existent standard and principle.
I see this appeal to “what’s right for the people” often here at Bikeportland.org as though what is “right” is simply before our eyes and just waiting to be seized upon. This is false. Instead, what’ s really happening is one person saying, “I disagree with x and can’t we just do what’s right which is incidentally what I believe. It’s neither a logicaly or a persuasive argument.
“Allowing housing units to be built in a spot where a similarly sized car storage unit could be built, she argued, ‘severely impinges on the property rights of the adjacent neighbors.'”
How is this sentiment logical at all? It’s like saying allowing a brick wall to be build where a wooden fence could be built “severely impinges on the property rights of the adjacent neighbors.”
I’m told that in the five years of data that were analyzed for this project there were more than twice as many permits pulled for garages than for ADUs
Chris…could that possibly be in part because ADU’s are still kind of a new thing, whereas interest in having garages has existed for a long while?
Sure, but it’s still clear that if you’re worried about what happens on your lot line, you need to pay attention to garages
Hey Chris, will this change the rules around allowing ADU’s to be built in front of houses at all? We have a huge front yard (>5000 square feet) and would prefer to place an ADU there rather than in the back if we were to build one.
I don’t think so, but it’s been several months since I’ve been down in the weeds in this code, so I’d suggest you contact Phil Nameny (https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/66546), the project manager, to be sure.
Any particular reason city that ADU’s, garages or any structure can’t be sited closer to the primary residence, most likely allowing for easily 5′ and maybe more, from the neighboring property line? Doing this, homeowners might lose a little of their back yard open space. Maybe that would be less lawn to mow.
It’s not quite right to consider storage of cars to be “…housing…” cars, though the latter is an amusing way to think of car storage. Motor vehicles aren’t people…although true that some people develop an attachment to their vehicle, where they think of them as being more than inanimate machines.
In structures such as houses, ADU,s and garages, it’s the difference in activity the structures are used for that’s the distinguishing feature. People living in houses and ADU’s (sometimes in garages too, but…that’s another story.). Once in the garage, cars and bikes don’t tend to listen to music, cook, play music, walk around past open windows with just a towel on, etc. People do all of those things. For higher level of livability and neighborhood peace and quiet, structures located some distance from the back property line makes sense.
You think a 5′ setback provides those benefits you mention? In some cases a homeowner might want to use the setback to simply preserve more of their yard, but in many cases (including mine) it’s very difficult to fit an ADU on the property (based on how the main home is situated). Those 5 feet on 2 sides can make the difference between a feasible project and not.
“…but in many cases (including mine) it’s very difficult to fit an ADU on the property (based on how the main home is situated). …” gary b
Example you cite could certainly be an exception to the question I asked. But yes, I think even a five foot setback could help a lot to support good neighbor relations.
Actually, I liked Bjorn’s idea of a “…single conjoined building split down the lot line.”, built by agreeing neighbors…though wouldn’t that be a nightmare for taxes, resale, and who knows what else? Some people would really like such an arrangement though, I suppose. Sounds nice to me. Some people have adjoining gardens without fences. I always liked that too.
It would seem that Fritz’s example describing her own property line and how it could theoretically come to have extensive big walls running big parts of its length, was offered as a hypothetical scenario. It’s important and valuable to have elected officials able to visualize just those type of situations possibly arising from proposals that otherwise may have much to support them.
Maybe some people don’t mind having big walls up against their property line, such as in the back yard of a 50 by 100 city lot. One of the nice things about suburban tract home developments, is despite the monotony of their repetition, most have back yards divided only by a four or six foot fence, allowing lots of sky and sun.
Possibly many more people putting up big walls on the property line to take advantage of the ADU potential for additional housing on their lots, could have a dramatic effect on neighborhood livability. I wonder how well city officials and everyone else is doing in terms of visualizing what all this could lead to.
zero lot line homes aren’t that uncommon, usually they have covenants around how maintanance will be done and paid for as things like new roofs have to be coordinated. It is a bit of a hassle I suppose but especially if you have more than one in a row can add 10 feet of width to a house. Personally I have never understood why people would build 4 skinny houses in a row with unusable side yards rather than widening them out and building row houses.
No kidding! Additionally, skinny homes are less than half as energy efficient due to having exposed sides instead of party walls which can help prevent heat flow to the outside. In addition to the extra space for more residents. Row houses are much more efficient with land than SFHs. I’m really surprised we haven’t seen more of them built in Portland.
Likely due to the fact that not all zoning districts will have the same setup from side or rear lines. That is typical of euclidean zoning. R-1, for instance, could have setback of 5′, R-2 has one of 2′, etc. You would have to redo existing zoning to allow what you are suggesting. By just allowing ADUs without redoing the zoning of respective zones, you would likely end up with some zones having setbacks less than 5′.
Fair point. But garages also get used for band practice, wood shops, auto repair, and other noisy purpose – which are covered by Portland’s noise code whether the structure is being used as a residence or garage
Framing Fritz’s proposed amendment as an argument for prioritizing cars over people seems to miss the point entirely. It sounds to me like she’s saying that there are certain rules that should apply to structures that house people (whether they are elderly relatives, long term renters, or air bnb customers) and other rules that should apply to structures that house inanimate objects such as cars, bikes, lawnmowers, and so forth.
Her amendment seems eminently reasonable to me. I would be disappointed in our city council if they relax the rules on dwelling units to allow them to be built up to the property line.
But I can’t put a bike shed next to the property line either!
You would be able to under Fritz’s proposal, though – she wants to preserve the restriction on ADUs but eliminate it for other structures, including bike sheds.
Actually short bike sheds are allowed under current law. If you look at the actual code, you will see an exemption for sheds under 200sqft that have an average height under 6ft. So you can legally build a pretty huge bike shed with a roof that slopes from say 7ft at the entry to 5ft in back entirely in the setback if you want. The relevant rule is Section 33.110.250, Subparagraph C.3, here: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/53295 “Covered accessory structures if 6 feet or less in height are allowed in side and rear setbacks, but are not allowed in a front setback.”
I really hope this exemption, perfect for bike sheds, is preserved in pending rewrites.
I really want to love Fritz and the scrappy can-do image she has historically presented, but she does sort of instinctively go the wrong way on so many issues I care about.
In this case, in addition to disagreeing with Fritz, I am further disappointed by the idea that our elected official’s first concern and most detailed presentation of the issue is to express the impact this regulation would have on them personally. We elect officials to defend the public interest. They will obviously have their private concerns, and that’s OK, but that’s not what they should use to defend or attack policy proposals.
But, there is no shared public interest here. Your implication is that Fritz’s individual considerations do not align with some yet-to-be-identified “public interest”. You have to first establish that a shared public interest exists. Again, it seems that you, like a commenter above, simply adopts your own individual preference(s) as the equivalent of a shared public interest, which it is not.
Adding to the City’s housing stock is absolutely in the public interest. This is especially true for smaller size / lower priced housing options.
All I said was I don’t like an elected official framing a policy issue primarily in terms of how it affects her personally. You’re jumping to all sorts of conclusions about my position in a reflexive move to refute me.
However, I will say you are incorrect that there is no shared public interest. Even without talking about housing policy, property owners will always have disputes about what their neighboring owners can do at the edges of their property. So there is definitely a shared public interest in setting rules.
“Under Fritz’s proposal, a property owner could still build a small ADU close to their lot line by spending $2,000 for an additional level of city review…”
For me, this pretty much explains the change.
Personally I agree, it’s not a totally unreasonable stopgap – and hopefully people would talk to their neighbors about these things without the city requiring them to do so.
But I think it’s worth keeping in mind that:
1) The biggest obstacle to building new ADUs is finding enough money up front to build them.
2) A 200-square-foot home like the one pictured at the top of this story probably costs less than $50,000 to permit and build. $2,000 is a pretty big cost as a percentage of the project.
That’s why we thought this was worth a story.
Having spent a good number of months and more money than I care to recall on attempting to design an ADU that would work in our backyard, I can tell you that even for a small one, costs head north pretty quickly. You still have to run a sewer line and utilities, and buy / install all the systems. You have less empty space than a larger dwelling, but that’s the cheapest part…all of which is to say that appalling though it is, that 200 square foot cottage could very well have cost more than $50k, depending on finishes and how much of the owner’s sweat equity is in it.
That is only if a garage exists now. She is proposing to not allow new ADUs built there. Just cars.
This amendment makes no sense. As mentioned in the article, if garages are still allowed up to the line, then this amendment and all it seeks to prevent is totally pointless.
This is Amanda Fritz in a nutshell. If she didn’t have this job, she’d be on an HOA approving paint colors, issuing fines for ragged hedges, and questioning our commitment to Sparkle Motion.
Fritz’s concerns seem like a bridge to cross when we get there. Her special neighborhood in remote SW has very few ADUs, and if they are indeed low-car dwellings, that isn’t likely to to change.
For my part I’d very much like not to have the “tiny homes” placed anywhere near what I’m reading again. Besides the twee connotations, the word “tiny” strikes me as a misnomer when many other homes in the rental market are much smaller.
I enjoyed your last paragraph very much.
Agreed. Every decision I see from Fritz seems to indicate that she isn’t very intelligent or rational. We can do much better on our city council.
Michael: to Champs’ point, this is about ADUs, not tiny homes. While smaller than your average single-family house, ADUs can be up to 800 ft2. “Tiny homes” typically refers to the 150 ft2 types of things, typically on wheels.
I hear y’all, but I needed to distinguish between large and small ADUs; an 800-foot ADU is a pretty big structure, almost always more than 15 feet tall and/or 24 feet wide, and therefore not affected under these rules. Also, we try to avoid acronyms in headlines, even things like ODOT and PBOT that regular readers of this site would recognize.
I like “small home” better for ADUs in general.
I agree that “tiny” can be an annoying word when we’re talking about actual housing but I think it applies in this case. The house in the lead picture is, I believe, 200 square feet.
Hope that explains the choice here, even if you disagree with it.
If I understand, only the side encroaching in the setback has to be less than 24′, so you could still have a pretty good size ADU on the property line. And if you are willing to excavate 4 feet, you could get a 2-story one in under this rule. But all that aside, I think “small home” would be a lot less confusing when there’s a fairly well-understood notion of what a true “tiny home” is.
Not that I’m bothered by it, just thought it worth noting.
Ok… well, consider this: 24′ x 5′ setback = 120 ft^2 of wasted outdoor space, likely to be filled with blackberries as many homeowners let weeds and bushes grow rampantly.
I always objected to the way that the term got hijacked pretty fast to mean trailer house, primarily by the people who construct such contraptions.
I always considered them, those things, to be sub 300 sq ft permanent structures. Like a garden shed with plumbing and wifi.
My old garage is built on the property line and that makes it difficult to maintain. I have to coordinate with the neighbors, who so far have been good. Except for the dirt that piled up against the side and started rotting the wood.
From a maintenance point of view it makes no sense to build up to the property line.
It seems reasonable to have different rules for garages vs ADUs since they have different purposes.
My Dad had a shed in the backyard that used the fence as one of the walls. No one else realized this until the neighbor redid that fence to fix the slightly offset property line. The neighbor, crew, and everyone else was quite surprised while my Dad though it was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
My neighbor and I share a fence the the previous homeowner of my house built. It is on my neighbors property and he has extended roofing from his garage to make a shed with the fence. This is illegal because it “intentionally displaces” rain water bit I let him get away with it because he is a jerk and would make my life miserable otherwise. Now the fence is falling down and he expects me to fix it.
I’m actually really glad Michael and you mentioned this. I’m in the planning phases for an ADU, and need to use as much of my property as possible. This rule change will directly affect me. It seems fairly obvious now that you say it, but I hadn’t thought about maintenance. I was thinking just 1 ft. for the eaves and construction reasons, but a few feet will be very helpful if I can manage it.
One idea I have for the future replacement garage is to have a masonry wall on the property line with the neighbor’s permission. I wouldn’t have to paint it. Dirt could pile up against it. As long as I could get on the roof to clean the gutters and maintain them I would be fine. The neighbor could use the common wall as a trellis or paint it any way they want.
One way to deal with this would be to pay your neighbor for a maintanence easement, that way if they sell the house the new owner can’t prevent you from maintaining the structure. Since the access would be used pretty rarely it shouldn’t cost much, especially if you are on good terms with a neighbor who supports the zero lot line construction.
I was on the other side of a property line garage. In the 10 years I lived in my house, the side basically rotted out (I actually replaced the siding on the bottom myself because it was an eyesore and my neighbor was not a joy to work with). In the last year I was there, little mushrooms started growing out the middle of the siding. I wouldn’t have been thrilled if she’d hung out in my backyard to maintain it, though.
I’m a fan of ADUs and currently live in one, but I think setbacks are good. I’ll probably be cleaning the gutters here myself, and climbing into the neighbors yard to do it wouldn’t be my first choice.
I have the same situation, my neighbor and I have liens on each others shared driveways and we split a two door carriage house (each half could maybe fit a Prius or smaller car perhaps a little bigger if you didn’t want use the car doors to exit and enter the vehicle). We’ve both wanted to do something with that “garage” for awhile, but the added layers of legality in doing so make it nearly impossible.
This would allow us both (which I know I’ve wanted to do it and he’s expressed interest as well) of us to gut the garage and make ADU’s out of it without needing a whole extra layer of lawyers and paper work between us. The garage already (and has for nearly 100 years) butts up to two adjoining properties.
My half is storage (mostly of which I really don’t need) and his space is a home gym for the current tenets, but it’s not insulated and I doubt much working out is going on in the cold.
I could make my half a 300 sq. foot ADU without increasing the current footprint, and to start it would likely house my son who’s going to graduate from high school in two years, and then after he’s on his feet likely my daughter who is 5 years behind him. Being able to offer my kids a place to stay while they get on their feet after school is worth the investment, and who knows- perhaps at some point when I retire and my kids start having kids – me and the wife take up residence in the ADU while our kids and grandchildren take over the main house.
The issue can get much deeper and personal than just affordable quick housing.
North Tabor NA unanimously endorsed placing ADUs anywhere on the property, ESPECIALLY in the setbacks above garages as part of our comprehensive plan. This was a consensus based decision that passed multiple meetings and has been publically posted since January.
I testified on the plan yesterday and asked her specifically to reconsider this amendment. I will follow up my paperwork with emails and a few pictures. I ended with we are more afraid of displacement than density…..and this is GOOD density.
Great testimony, Terry!
I look like a mountain man….but hey, scruff is in, right?
The objections show no respect for the process. The citizen group and planning staff have been working on this for 11 months. Why would anyone agree to serve on a policy committee if a city councilor can sweep in to undo a key element of the hard-won compromise at the final hearing?
You’ve highlighted why such committees or commissions are ineffective. The real problem, though is that such committees simoly serve as a cop out for the elected and appointed officials. Rather than accept proposals from staff, wrestle with those, and come to a decision, these elected and appointed officials pass the buck. We ought not be encouraging or perpetuating this kind of process. Thisnis bad government.
Instead, accept staff proposals, modify, and then subject to public comment and then modify and enact. This is good government.
This is another example that reveals that we ought not empower our governmental jurisdictions to interfere in our lives. Note the excruciating detail with which we have involved the local government which not only lacks the technical competencies to “solve” these “problems”, but also the popular will.
The simple answer here to limit the government’s authority and get it, as much as possible, out of the micro-zoning/regulatory business. Their involvement almost always fails to resolve the issue(s) and typically results in perverse outcomes.
Where do you draw the line, though? Would you mind if your neighbor built a four story apartment on his property? This is happening in places like Houston and Austin where property owners have more freedom.
Considering I’ve lived in my house for almost 20 years, that happens and the bulldozers coming for my house next and I’m retiring early.
To be fair, while there’s a perception that’s true, all the empirical evidence point to the fact that HOA’s in Texas end up filling the place of city zoning. So the real question is do you want a regulatory commission that is only filled with home owners and not supported by staff to make all the decisions or do you want elected officials and their staff to make the decisions? There’s no “right” answer, but that’s the actual dichotomy in reality.
Should your neighbors be able to do anything they want to? What if they wanted to raise and slaughter pigs in their back yard? Open up a pot dispensary or peepshow?
The zoning laws protect the integrity of residential neighborhoods and quality of life. I accept limitations on what I can do because I don’t want my neighbors to do whatever they want to do. It’s not a nefarious act on the part of faceless bureaucrats.
Neighbors already can for the most part and what they don’t do legally they just do illegally. My next door neighbors to the East use their garage as a family room and to work on motorcycles. My neighbors to the West illegally built a separate bedroom (too large for code). Both are within the setback. ADUs are being unfairly regulated.
Any idea if 2 neighbors wanted to build adu’s if this would allow them to build a single conjoined building split down the lot line?
Bjorn, yes, actually, it would. This has happened once before to my knowledge, and they required an adjustment because they did not each have eaves.
But, under this new code, you could build side by side ADUs with a shared wall, provided the ADUs were each less than 24’x24′, and less than 15′ at the mid point of the gable (ie. one story).
Fritz’s amendment would prevent this form though.
Wow. Christ Smith for Mayor. Awesome job on the rebuttal!
While should it take a $2000 city review? Why can’t it be a simple form that the affected neighbors have to sign, saying they’re OK with the structure? Maybe even have the form include a maintenance agreement.
What is Commissioner Fritz afraid of? This screams of a typical owners vs renters argument. Somehow because ADUs will house people renting, that it automatically will become a problem. Her desire to protect “property rights” reflects this. Does she just not want renters in her neighborhood?
I just finished up a project where I had a single car garage accessed from the front yard and turned it into a bike shed. Directly behind the new bike shed was a single 12′ X 20′ garage accessed from the alleyway. I was 2.8′ from the property line and wanted to build a new 25 X 22′ garage replacing the single one and had to pay the $2000 for an adjustment to get approval to rebuild on the same 2.8′ setback. Mind you that adjustment is before you actually pay for the permit costs. I understand the reason for setbacks but don’t feel that I was treated any differently by the city for building a garage versus an adu. In fact the city required I remove the window in the converted bike shed that was 2.8′ from the property line and install two layers of .5″ Sheetrock.
The really fun part about the 2 grand is that the city could just decide to say no and keep your money.
This is a really key point. Adjustments are discretionary reviews that can go either way. You pay the fee no matter what, but that doesn’t grant you the exception. You also have to get someone to write up findings against the adjustment criteria, and it gives neighbors the opportunity to appeal. Very dicey.
Couple of thoughts.
1. A 200-300 sq ft detached ADU costs $50-80K to build, unless you DIY it. Just FYI. We are in the budgeting stage of building an ADU on our property.
2. There is a problem now that Multnomah County is saying that building a detached ADU can sometimes cause the entire property, main house included, to be reassessed as new construction. Unclear if this policy will stick but right now, that’s what they say. If that doesn’t change, the outlook for detached ADUs is unclear. (Not applicable to ADU in a basement or attached, AFAIK.)
3. Many garages are on the property line. Many of those garages can be converted to ADUs (or replaced by an ADU on the same footprint), since people can park in their driveways. That sort of conversion would make no difference to the neighbor’s privacy, light, etc. It should be permitted, even if construction of an entirely new ADU on the property line is not.
4. If an ADU is on the property line, I could see some logic in restrictions on windows on the side looking into the neighboring property. Maybe transom windows would be preferred to full size windows.
5. We do need more ADUs in Portland. Yes, some of them are used for short term rentals. But many others are used for long term housing (rentals, parents, kids, etc.) And short term rentals (AirBNB, etc) benefit the city in that those visitors are revenue for our restaurants, shops, tourist attractions, etc. Either kind of rental brings more benefit than an empty yard.
6. The option of short term rentals is actually helping get more ADUs built. Consider the detached 200-300 sq ft ADU that costs $70K to build. That might bring at most $700/mo as a long term rental, being a really miniscule studio. Spending $70K to make $700/mo doesn’t make much sense. But if you think you can get $50/night ($100/night at 50% occupancy), it makes more sense. Then, once built, that ADU will be part of the permanent housing stock, long after the AirBNB thing has run its course and Portland is no longer a trendy place to visit.
I thought this was pretty well covered in the Oregonian stories–the tax changes are only a “problem” if you already enjoy an artificially low tax rate due to Measures 5 and 50.
The story in the O, for those that missed it, detailed a family in NE Portland who built an ADU, then Multnomah County decided that the ADU was a substantial change in the whole property (original structure plus ADU) so reassessed the whole property. Their tax bill went from around 2k to 7k.
The hidden gem in the story, though, was the owner’s statement that their bill had increased “from 1k to 2k in 15 years…” This, plus the new assessed value, means that they are living in a house currently valued around 500k, but bought 15 years ago for $100k (and still assessed roughly at that rate).
There’s certainly something wrong with a property tax bill tripling in one year, but there’s something more wrong with a property tax system that allows such inequitable tax rates.
Not all of us interested in building an ADU are paying less taxes than we are supposed to. In fact, outer NE residents are paying more than their share. The ammendmenr Fritz is proposing would prevent some of those property owners from building.
Missing in this discussion is the distinction of Zoning code vs. Building code. Regardless of what the zoning code allows, the building code determines whether a fire-rated wall is required when near a property line. While I’m not an expert, I believe a dwelling unit would require a fire-rated wall, and any windows in it (if allowed at all), would need to be special windows with wire-glass, etc. So it’s unlikely an ADU on the property line would have any windows on the property-line side.
That’s correct. Any wall closer than 3′ to the property line needs to be 1 hour fire rated, with zero openings.
“For decades, there’s been exactly one way to build a 15-foot-tall structure up to the edge of most Portland property lines: put a car in it.”
Michael that’s simply not true. See 33.110.220 (B):
“The walls of the garage structure are subject to the front, side, and rear
building setbacks stated in Table 110-3.”
Oh I see, looks like this contradicts 33.110.253 (D):
In the R7, R5 and R2.5 zones, detached garages are allowed in the side and rear building setbacks if all of the following are met.
Sounds like the code could be written more clearly, too.
This whole thing with ADU’s seems a wonky smoke screen in order for the Portland City Commissioners to avoid the real issue. This is, access to real housing. Portland is not building over vacant lots and knocking done lots to build up. That means preferably condos/townhomes and last resort-apartments. Simply throw an ADU discussion and the whole world wants to waste time on that.
As if a mother in law apartment here and there is really going to do anything for the housing shortage. Look at google maps, every vacant lot should be being built on right now. Home should be torn down to make way for skinny homes and town homes.
Nope, that isn’t happening on a large enough scale which is distorting the market terribly.