ADU discussion pushed back to September

City Council has again pushed back the discussion and possible action on removing barriers to Accessory Dwelling Units in Eugene to September. The work session is currently scheduled for September 16th at 5:30pm. Comments are still being accepted to the record until then, and should be emailed to AHansen@eugene-or.gov and mayorcouncilandcitymanager@ci.eugene.or.us.

In 2017, the State passed SB 1051, which said that each detached single-family homeowner shall be permitted to create at least one accessory dwelling unit, subject to reasonable regulations related to siting and design. Since then, Eugene has been dragging its feet, and has yet to remove unreasonable restrictions. This has resulted in three appeals to the Land Use Board of Appeals, all of which the City has lost.

HB 2001, which passed last week, has a provision that provides some additional clarity as to what constitutes a reasonable regulation related to siting and design-- most notably, it clearly states that owner occupancy provisions and off-street parking requirements are not reasonable regulations related to siting and design and cannot be used to prohibit ADUs.

The ordinance that Council will be discussing in September, as currently proposed, removes Eugene's owner occupancy requirement, but retains parking minimums for Accessory Dwelling Units. As well, it retains a number of other roadblocks which aren't related to siting or design that prevent thousands of Eugene homeowners from creating an ADU if they so desire, including restrictive lot size minimums and prohibitions on particular types of lots.

Eugene has made a commitment to address our housing crisis and to figure out how to provide housing for all our residents in a more sustainable fashion. While ADUs are not the sole solution, they are a piece of the puzzle. Prior to passing the ordinance, Council should modify it both to remove parking minimums as required by HB 2001, and to remove other barriers to ADUs.

Council requests that most barriers to ADUs be left in draft code

Council reviewed 19 separate restrictions placed on ADUs.  Five of the restrictions were so obviously not "reasonable restrictions related to siting and design" that they would be nearly impossible to defend, so Council directed staff to removed them from the draft code. For fourteen of the nineteen, Council requested that staff keep the restrictions in place, and directed staff to come up with some legal justification for the restriction. (See details of the 19 restrictions, Council's action and WE CAN's recommendations at the end of this posting.)

Why ADUs?

For over a year, WE CAN has been talking primarily about code changes to make Accessory Dwelling Units easier in Eugene.  But we also know that ADUs alone are not going to solve our housing crisis or move Eugene towards more walkable neighborhoods—they are tiny piece of the solution, but on their own they will not have a major impact.  So why the focus on ADUs?

For decades, the vast majority of updates to Eugene’s zoning code have made housing harder to build and made the processes more complex and difficult to navigate.  While our high-level plans and statements have repeatedly said that rather than expand into the farm and forest land surrounding the City we wished to find ways to provide the housing we need with the land we already have, as we’ve made the decisions to implement that we have in practice downzoned, limited housing, and added hoops and barriers to the point of absurdity.  

We are not going to achieve our goals of providing housing that is affordable to all income levels while also protecting our natural resources, creating more efficient transportation options and planning for climate change if we continue to only pass regulations that just serve to protect existing single-family homeowners from the impacts of neighborhood evolution.  The values expressed in Envision Eugene can sometimes be in conflict, and require tradeoffs.  But we have for decades privileged one perspective and one set of interests over all the others.

If we are going to solve our housing crisis and achieve our goals as a City, we need to shift direction.  And we need to see City Council and City Staff shift direction—no more last minute votes to add barriers and confusion and delays that are written by activists and past by Council with no opportunity for comment and limited evaluation of the impacts.  

Accessory Dwelling Units are the smallest, simplest modification that we can make to start moving in the right direction on housing in Eugene.  

Of all the types of new housing we can add, ADUs are the least expensive, most affordable construction type that can be done without subsidizes.  While all new construction is going to be more expensive than we wish it would be, if nothing else ADUs don’t require the purchase of additional land, which can add significantly the cost of creating housing.

Of all ways we can fit additional homes into our community, ADUs have the least impact on neighbors.  ADUs are small, and frequently come in the form of a cute cottage or the conversion of an existing building or portion of a building, creating no visual impact.  Given that the majority of homeowners are unlikely to build ADUs, the few additional new neighbors living in ADUs probably aren’t even going to be noticed as they use our sidewalks, streets, and parks.  

Every journey starts with a single step.  Eugene has been walking backwards.  By asking, “Can we remove zoning barriers to ADUs in Eugene?” we are also asking “Is Eugene willing to do more than talk about achieving a vision of affordable, available, and diverse housing?” So far, the answer has been, “No.”  But once we take that first step, it makes it a little easier to take another, and another.  And we’ve got miles to walk.