City ponders code changes to protect quality of life

By RAELYNN RICARTE

News staff writer

July 15, 2006

Many Hood River citizens are feeling “closed in” by the number of large homes springing up on small lots.

Having open space eclipsed by structures with no yards was a key concern expressed in last fall’s visioning survey. City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge took note of that worry — and has attempted to address it and other identified growth problems.

On Wednesday the planning commission will look at some of her recommended changes to the zoning code. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. in the municipal courtroom at the junction of Second and State streets.

Under review will be a limitation on the size of the footprint for both residential and commercial structures. A single-family dwelling could cover no more than 40 percent of a lot. Commercial buildings would be allowed to take up only 65 percent of a parcel.

If structures in either zoning designation had a front porch, then another 3 percent of coverage would be allowed. Houses could extend across 45 percent of the property with a rear garage, and commercial establishments 70 percent.

“We have no coverage requirement in place right now, so this addresses that issue,” said Walbridge.

Also on the agenda is her suggestion that property owners be allowed a small rental unit. Walbridge said a loft apartment over a garage or another type of addition could provide more affordable housing opportunities. The fear that rising residential costs would drive low-to middle-income families away from Hood River was another key concern in the survey.

Walbridge is asking that the separate dwellings be restricted to 800 square feet of floor space. And, to ensure they are not used for short-term vacation stays, she asks that proof of local employment be required, along with a 12-month lease.

“We’re trying to open a market that will provide the work force of Hood River with a place to live at a little less rent,” she said.

According to Walbridge, discussions are underway between the city and HOPE (Housing for People) to enforce the accessory dwelling code. She said the city could charge a registration fee for these units and turn the money over to HOPE in exchange for its oversight of the program.

“Being able to have a mother-in-law apartment might also help homeowners. That rent could be applied to the mortgage payment to offset the increases in valuation,” she said.

The July 19 discussion also centers on a proposal that bed and breakfast establishments screen parking from public view.

Walbridge would like vehicles parked to the rear or the side of historical homes used for commercial purposes.

“We just want to keep B&Bs looking like the rest of their residential neighbors,” she said.

The planning commission will also be asked to decide if townhouses should be listed as a conditional use. Walbridge said that would allow neighbors to have more of a say in development plans than is currently available.

“Land divisions at this time don’t have standards for compatibility,” she said.

Walbridge said the four issues on the table at next week’s meeting are just the starting point for changes in development standards.

On Aug. 16, the planning commission will look at setting a definition of grade to help govern the height of hillside developments. Also on the agenda will be a review of Walbridge’s recommendations for building setbacks from alleys and easing restrictions on the processing of residential park plans.

On Sept. 20, the appointed body will address the controversial issue of building heights and density calculations.

“The end goal is to respond to the top priorities in the visioning: affordable housing, retaining the quality of life in residential neighborhoods and ensuring open space,” Walbridge said.

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