Eugene's Secondary Dwelling Zoning Code- Adjustments Needed

Oregon Senate Bill 1051 passed in July of 2017, and was signed into law on August 15, 2017.  In part, this measure reads:

A city with a population greater than 2,500 or a county with a population greater than 15,000 shall allow in areas zoned for detached single-family dwellings the development of at least one accessory dwelling unit for each detached single-family dwelling, subject to reasonable local regulations relating to siting and design.

The operative date for this portion of the bill is July 1, 2018.

This means that everyone who owns a single-family home in Eugene who wants to build an accessory dwelling unit (called “Secondary Dwelling Units” in Eugene) on their property, should be allowed to do so with a simple building permit application.  Any barriers in the zoning code that would prohibit the building of an SDU must be removed, and design and siting requirements for SDUs should be carefully examined to ensure they are reasonable.

Many of Eugene’s current regulations surrounding Secondary Dwelling Units are not in compliance with state law.  In order to ensure that our code legal, and to provide homeowners more options for housing for their family members and others in the community, we should make the following adjustments:

Remove Regulations Surrounding Secondary Dwelling Units that do not relate to Design and Siting.

  • Eugene currently has an owner occupancy requirement on Secondary Dwelling Units.  Prior to building a SDU, the owner must modify their deed to indicate that they will live in one of the two dwellings. This clause must carry over to future owners; and they must verify that they are continuing their residence every two years.  While there is an allowance for a temporary leave of up to a year, the owner must provide documentation of need, such as a statement from a medical provider, with a notarized statement that the property owner intends to reoccupy the premise within a year.

Given that the residential status of the property owner is not a design or siting regulation, all language relating to the owner occupancy requirement for properties with Secondary Dwelling Units should be removed.  (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)7, p9.2-78)

  • Eugene currently permits Secondary Dwelling Units only in R-1 zones.  They are not a permitted housing type in R-2, R-3, R-4 or in many special area zones.  Instead of being considered “secondary dwellings,” a backyard cottage in these zones are just seen as dwellings… and thus may not be eligible for incentives or supportive code.  At the same time, the development of Detached Single Family Homes are permitted in these zones, and many lots zoned for uses other than R-1 have existing detached single family homes on them. 

Since that the language of the Senate Bill states that each detached single-family dwelling should be allowed to build at least one accessory dwelling unit, to be in compliance, Secondary Dwelling Units should be permitted in all zones that also allow for detached single-family dwellings.  (Eugene Land Use Code, p9.2-62, Table 9.2740)

  • Secondary Dwelling Units, both attached and detached, are currently only permitted on lots with a minimum size of 6,100 square feet (12,500 square feet for a flag lot). 

The Senate Bill indicates that each detached single-family dwelling should be allowed to have an SDU, and does not include density or lot size requirements as permissible regulations surrounding SDUs.  Therefore, the lot size requirements should be removed.  (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)1, p9.2-77)

  • There are provisions in the code that specifically limit the number of dogs allowed on lots with SDUs, and provide additional requirements for outdoor storage and trash

As neither of these restrictions relate to design or siting of the Secondary Dwelling Unit, these special requirements should be removed, and instead SDUs should be required to follow the same animal keeping and trash screening requirements as required by the underlying zoning of the areas. (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)6, p9.2-78)

  • Secondary Dwellings are limited to two bedrooms.  While as a practical matter, dwellings below a particular size (see below) are unlikely to have many more than two bedrooms, the number of bedrooms in a unit is not a “design or siting” regulation, and is difficult to monitor—this family’s bedroom may be the next family’s “office.”  This clause should be removed. (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)5, p9.2-78) 
  • In the Special Development Standards for Table 9.2750, section (1)(a), it states “The minimum residential density requirements set forth in Table 9.2750 do not apply to attached secondary dwellings in R-1…”

Given that there is no minimum residential density requirement in R-1, this appears to be an error of some kind.  As SB 1051 does not include density as an area of regulation for Accessory Dwelling Units, this clause should be modified to read: “The maximum and minimum residential density requirements set forth in Table 9.2750 do not apply to secondary dwellings.”  This allows both for Secondary Dwellings in R-1, and as well in R-2 and above areas where minimum density requirements may prevent the construction of Secondary Dwellings on lots with existing single-family homes.  (Eugene Land Use Code, p9.2-67, 9.2751(1)(a), Table 9.2740 p9.2-62)

Ensure Design and Siting Regulations are Reasonable:

The purpose of design and siting regulations is to balance the desire of a property owner to build and make use of their lot with their neighbors to maintain reasonable expectations of compatibility and privacy.  Therefore, the standard used to decide if a design and siting regulation is reasonable should be whether it would be reasonable to build a structure (including the primary detached single-family dwelling) in that manner.  Basically, the design and siting regulations should be agnostic towards use—if it is reasonable for a property owner to build an addition to their home at a particular height or siting for use for a growing family, it should also be reasonable for them to use that addition as an SDU.  Along those lines:

  • Height and setback requirements, including sloped setback requirements, should be consistent between the primary dwelling and any secondary dwellings or accessory buildings. This would mean either removing the special height limitations and sloped setbacks for accessory buildings and secondary dwellings, or adding similar requirements for detached single family homes on the lot.  (i.e. structures more than 60 feet from the front of the lot are limited in height to 18 feet with a sloped setback, etc.) (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)3, p9.2-78)
  • While a limitation on the size of SDUs to 800 square feet seems like a reasonable regulation, the limitation on size based on the lot size seems unreasonable.  The language indicating that the size of the SDU can be only 10% of the lot, regardless of the current lot coverage, should be removed.  Since particularly attached SDUs may be structured as a conversion of existing space within an existing building (i.e. basement or second floor space), the relative size of the SDU to the size of the lot would have no impact on neighbors.  As the lot coverage maximum for R-1 is 50%, the property owner should be able to determine what amount of the lot can be used for the primary dwelling, accessory buildings, secondary dwellings, etc. (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(a)2, p9.2-77) 

If the City wished to incentivize SDUs, and go beyond the requirements of SB 1051, they may choose to allow an additional 10% of lot coverage for SDUs.  (i.e. typically, in R-1 50% lot coverage is allowed; an R-1 lot with an SDU may have up to 60% lot coverage.)

  • The language surround the amount of unheated garage space attached to a detached SDU is ambiguous. It is unclear if it is allowing a separate garage to be attached to the SDU or if it is requiring that “garage-apartment” style SDUs, where the SDU is built over an existing detached garage, be limited to 300 square feet.  This language should be removed or clarified. (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(b)1, p9.2-79) 

Remove Area Specific SDU Restrictions:

Additional restrictions on SDUs apply in the Amazon, Fairmont, and South University Neighborhoods, including larger lot size minimums, additional driveway and parking requirements, additional siting standards, different lot coverage requirements, and additional bedroom count restrictions.  (Eugene Land Use Code, 9.2751(17)(c), p9.2-80)

Given that the SB 1051 states that each detached single-family dwelling should be allowed an accessory dwelling unit, and does not allow for neighborhood-based restrictions on SDUs, language surrounding additional restrictions on SDUs in the Amazon, Fairmont, and South University Neighborhoods should be removed, and the same SDU design and siting regulations that apply to the city overall should be used.  If there is a need for additional standards, particularly surrounding driveways and parking, these should be applied to the neighborhoods in a manner that is agnostic of use (i.e. parking spaces per unit, regardless of whether the unit is a single-family home, part of a duplex, or an SDU.)