Apartment complexes near parks in Bend might be able to fit in a few more units under a code change endorsed by the city’s planning commission Monday.

City law now requires that at least 10 percent of a lot containing an apartment with 20 or more units be public open space. If the Bend City Council approves the planning commission’s recommended changes, some future apartments will be able to halve that open space requirement.

It’s a change that housing advocates hope will help combat Bend’s affordable housing crisis by allowing more homes.

Eligible apartments must be within a quarter-mile of a public park and have a direct walking path to get to the park. The Bend Park & Recreation District, which roughly aligns with city limits, has more than 2,700 acres of parks scattered throughout the city.

Jim Landin, a member of Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and an architect with BLRB Architects, said he supported the proposal but wants to clarify what the public open space requirement entails.

Some apartment builders interpret it as adding an extra landscaped area, while one allowed a community building to count for its open space requirement, he said. The best solution seems to be spreading the additional space around buildings, he said.

“That one I think creates the most livability,” Landin said.

Open space can be interpreted in various ways, Bend Senior Code Planner Pauline Hardie said.

“It would not have to be contiguous,” she said. “You can break it up the way this is constructed — if you want a little dog park, a rose garden, a patio, you can do that.”

Central Oregon LandWatch, an environmental group, opposed tying the open space requirement to parks. In a letter, LandWatch attorney Rory Isbell said it would allow developers of market-rate apartments to cut costs and increase profits without guaranteeing lower costs for low-income people who qualify for subsidized housing.

“Although Bend has many wonderful parks throughout the city, on-site open space at multifamily developments is an important outdoor respite that increases livability for multifamily housing residents,” the letter said. “These spaces often serve as the backyard for residents, facilitating picnics, fresh air, pet areas, and family play areas at residents’ doorsteps. This change would decrease livability for residents of multifamily apartments.”

Apartments that take a public open space credit for being within walking distance of parks also must provide private decks for ground-floor units and at least 50 percent of upper-floor units. They’ll also have to provide every unit with a private 3-foot-by-4-foot storage space.

Linking open space requirements to nearby parks was a recommendation of a Bend 2030 work group that aimed to encourage homes that families making between $40,000 and $90,000 a year could afford without spending more than about a third of their income on rent or mortgages. Bend’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee will discuss another of the group’s recommendations, charging lower fees to developers of smaller houses, on Wednesday.

Other changes recommended by the planning commission include permitting taller granny flats and allowing property owners who hope to build those accessory dwelling units to pay for a sidewalk elsewhere in their area instead of building a sidewalk in front of their own homes if it would be too expensive.

All changes will still need to be approved by the Bend City Council, with a tentative hearing scheduled for Feb. 7.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160; jshumway@bendbulletin.com