Spurred by a new state law, Benton County will allow the construction of accessory dwelling units starting June 30.
At a public hearing on Tuesday, the Benton County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance that amends the county development code and sets standards for the design and siting of ADUs, sometimes known as “granny flats” or “mother-in-law cottages.”
The new rules satisfy the requirements of Senate Bill 1051, passed by the 2017 Legislature as part of a package of bills aimed at easing a growing housing crisis around the state. Generally smaller and cheaper to build than traditional single-family homes, ADUs are seen as a way to increase the supply of affordable housing.
For the most part, the standards adopted on Tuesday follow the recommendations made by the Benton County Planning Commission on May 1.
In part, the rules:
• Allow only one ADU per single-family dwelling.
• Set a size limit of 900 square feet (plus a 300-square-foot garage).
• Require one parking space per ADU.
• Mandate that the accessory dwelling be no more than 200 feet from the main house.
• Require that the property owner live on-site, either in the main house or the accessory dwelling.
• Allow manufactured homes to be used as ADUs.
• Prohibit short-term rental use of either the ADU or the associated main dwelling.
The Planning Commission recommendation also included a limit of two bedrooms and one bathroom per ADU. That’s included in the emergency ordinance, too, but in their lone departure from the recommendation, the county commissioners also passed a second version of the ordinance that allows accessory dwellings to have a second bathroom.
That ordinance, which does not include an emergency clause, will supersede the first version and is scheduled to take effect on July 19.
The county standards largely mirror those adopted recently by the Corvallis City Council. For now, Benton County will allow ADUs only in unincorporated areas within urban growth boundaries, but commissioners have discussed the possibility of expanding the rules to include rural residential zones at a later date. Expansion would require an additional public hearing.
Four people testified at Tuesday’s hearing. While they all supported the idea of allowing ADUs within urban growth boundaries, most called for greater flexibility in the design and siting standards.
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Real estate brokers Holly Sears and Deborah Weaver argued against the owner-occupancy requirement, calling it too restrictive. Sears, who represents the Willamette Association of Realtors, also called for easing the setback requirements. And David Dodson, who said he would like to have an accessory dwelling on his property, called for raising the size limit to 1,200 or even 1,500 square feet and extending the allowable distance from the main dwelling to 400 feet.
The commissioners showed interest in loosening some of the requirements but noted that they had to pass an ordinance quickly in order to comply with the new state law.
“I feel like I’m being rushed into this without more discussion,” Anne Schuster complained.
Annabelle Jaramillo pushed back against the idea of eliminating the owner occupancy standard, noting that the county fields frequent complaints from neighbors regarding issues with rental properties.
“I really am concerned with lifting that requirement,” she said.
But the commissioners also suggested they’d be willing to revisit the rules in a year or so, after they’ve had more time to see how they work in practice. And in the meantime, they noted, the county has a variance process that allows property owners to request exemptions or modifications of the rules on a case-by-case basis.
Greg Verret, the county’s community development director, said he would support that approach.
“I don’t think there is a lot of experience in (Oregon) counties allowing ADUs,” he said.
“This is new territory for us, and it’s much harder to solve a problem after the horse is out of the barn.”
Also on Tuesday, the commissioners voted unanimously to redesignate the Benton Corvallis Enterprise Zone for another 10 years.
Jointly sponsored by the city of Corvallis, the enterprise zone covers several industrial districts in the area. Participating companies can earn property tax breaks for up to five years, provided the businesses create a certain number of jobs and meet other requirements.
According to information provided by Tom Nelson, head of the Corvallis-Benton County Economic Development Office, the program has generated $18.2 million in investment and created 352 jobs so far in exchange for $239,518 in property tax abatements.
The biggest participant has been NuScale Power, which invested $4.9 million and generated 283 jobs over three years.
Other companies that have taken part in the program are Gerding Builders, Natural Point, Perpetua Power Technologies, 2 Towns Ciderhouse, Block 15 Brewing Co. and 4 Spirits Distillery.