The city of Corvallis has the lowest amount of vacant land on record and is annexing property at historic lows as well.
Those are two of the nuggets in the just-released Land Development Information Report. The study tracks building permit activity for the period from Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2016 and is used to summarize development activity and land availability.
The report was released as Corvallis, along with many other communities in Oregon, is battling a housing crunch of high demand and low supply. Improving the housing situation also has been a City Council goal in the past three council terms.
Only 14.9 percent of city land was vacant at the end of 2016, says the report, compiled by the city’s Planning Division. The vacant land percentage peaked at 25 percent in 1987 and has been dropping steadily ever since. Of the 1,371 acres of vacant land, 728 are zoned for residential use, although constraints from natural features reduce that to about 460. (The vacant lands do not include city parkland, which is considered as defined space.)
The city also has been slow to add land to the city limits. Since 2006, 137 acres of land have been annexed into the city, with the largest chunk being a 33-acres parcel near the intersection of Western Boulevard and 35th Street that became the Retreat student housing complex. That total pales in comparison to the rate of previous decades: Land was annexed at a rate of at least 160 acres annually in eight individual years between 1976 and 2000, topped by 565 acres in 1977 and 405 in 1988.
The city is reviewing its codes on annexation in hopes of simplifying them. Complicating matters is the city’s current legal fight with SB 1573, a law signed by Gov. Kate Brown in 2016 that limits voter-approved annexations. Corvallis was the first city to set up a system of voter-approved annexations, passing a measure in 1976.
In the most recent annexation, in the Nov. 8, 2016, election, voters approved the Lawndale Annexation, which brought in 2.4 acres from five properties off of Northeast Lawndale Place. The annexation was driven by septic failures in the neighborhood.
The city has argued that SB 1573 violates the Oregon Constitution because it infringes on the city’s home rule decision-making authority and restricts citizens’ rights to vote on annexations.
Councilors will hold a public hearing Monday on the Marys Annexation, which could add more than 1,000 units of housing on 118 acres north and east of the West Hills Road-53rd Street roundabout.
The council will consider two more annexations at its Jan. 16 meeting. One, the Caldwell Farms Annexation just up West Hills Road from the roundabout, might result in 90-plus units of housing and an assisted living center on 16.45 acres. The second involves expansion plans by Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center and does not include a housing component.
The Planning Commission spent 37 minutes on the report at its meeting Wednesday at the downtown fire station. Several commissioners asked questions about how city staff calculated the vacant land acreage and made suggestions on changes that might lead to better integration of the report with other land-use documents, including the buildable lands inventory.
Here is a look at other points in the report:
• The city issued 229 residential building permits in the two-year period, including 119 single-family units, 18 duplexes and 92 multifamily units. The largest single-family project produced 38 units at Willamette Landing, while the biggest multifamily construction was the apartment complex at the former site of the Gazette-Times (28 units).
• Population growth remains modest, averaging 1.05 percent since the turn of the century to 58,240. The city grew 3.5 percent in 2001 and 2.2 percent in 2014, but in eight of those 17 years growth was at 1.0 percent or below.
• This decade likely will produce the fewest number of new housing units since the 1980s. Through the first seven years of the decade, 1,439 units were built, more than the entire 1980s (1,474), but there is no chance the city will match the growth of the 1960s (3,369 units), 1970s (4,403), 1990s (3,511) or the 2000s (2,778).
• Apartment and other multifamily construction growth has trended ahead of single family building in recent years. And although 54.7 percent of the housing stock remains single-family, the spread was 65-35 in favor of single-family in 1970.