From the open third floor of Ron Micnhimer’s house, you can see the mountains surrounding Bend and the tops of trees in his neighbors’ yards. Or, looking down from the small open room with its hot tub, rusty vintage trunks and two painted white lawn chairs he built this winter, you can catch a birds-eye view of the reason the retired contractor’s yard could lead to a change in city code.
Eight cargo containers — the 20-foot-long steel boxes used to move goods on ships, trains and trucks — sit on his half-acre property, storing materials gathered through decades of building construction that don’t fit in his home, two-story woodshop or three sheds.
To Micnhimer, the containers and their contents are a crucial part of what he calls his “golden years of retirement,” a time to work on projects.
The property is covered with these projects: art made from rusted nails that honor his fellow Vietnam War veterans who didn’t return from combat, a sink he plans to cover with pennies and paintings that he brushed with his own hair.
His neighbors on Clairaway Avenue in southeast Bend don’t see it this way.
To them, the containers are an eyesore.
They’re pressing the city of Bend to regulate cargo containers, and possible changes to city code are likely to come before Bend’s planning commission in the coming months.
Bend city councilors said last week that they’d be open to limiting how many cargo containers could be on a residential property, or requiring that the containers are only used temporarily, such as when building or remodeling a home. The city also could potentially require residents to paint cargo containers so they fit in aesthetically with homes and sheds.
None of those potential changes makes sense, Micnhimer said.
“I’m a firm believer that when you own a property, you can do whatever you want on that property,” he said. “Guess I live differently than some people.”
Gloria Skidgel, who lives next door to Micnhimer, disagrees. She said Micnhimer’s cargo containers and the other items he stores lower property values for everyone else in the neighborhood.
Micnhimer doesn’t live in the home, she said, but instead uses it to store old stuff. Micnhimer said he has several homes and lives in all of them. According to county property records, Micnhimer owns one other house just east of Bend.
His property reminds Skidgel of the History Channel show “American Pickers,” which follows two antique collectors as they visit hoarders and casual collectors searching for bits of American history.
“He reminds me of the guy that the pickers go to see,” Skidgel said. “It is a giant storage piece of property for a contractor, which should be in an industrial area.”
In many newer neighborhoods in Bend, Micnhimer wouldn’t be allowed to have cargo containers on his lot. Those neighborhoods have homeowners associations capable of enforcing covenants, conditions and restrictions.
The neighborhood Skidgel and Micnhimer live in — a quiet area north of Reed Market Road with large lots, no sewers and no sidewalks — has covenants, conditions and restrictions but no means of enforcing them.
Most of the residents are older people, Skidgel said, and they don’t have the money to form a homeowners association or start expensive legal battles.
“I want to see the city protect neighborhoods without HOAs,” she said. “We are the least likely to be able to get an attorney to fight these things.”
For now, Skidgel added to the fence around her property — it’s 9 feet tall in a section that borders Micnhimer’s land — so she could block the view of her neighbor’s cargo containers. Skidgel said she wants to see a citywide change so no one has to deal with containers next door.
In an email sent to the city, Larkspur Neighborhood Association land-use chairwoman Sue Sullivan wrote that the neighborhood association was prepared to advocate for changes to development codes because the issue could have citywide implications. Unlike homeowners associations, Bend’s 13 neighborhood associations are free to participate in and represent every resident and business in the city.
In a follow-up email to The Bulletin, Sullivan wrote that the neighborhood association typically doesn’t get involved in neighbor disputes, but shipping containers seemed to have broader implications, and clarifying city code seemed best for everyone.
Cargo containers are treated as accessory structures in city code, meaning they have to comply with the same setback and lot coverage requirements as sheds or garages. James Goff, Bend’s code enforcement manager, said his department reaches out to residents and the companies that drop cargo containers off when they’re placed too close to lot lines.
“It’s not something that generates a lot of complaints, but I can see where having a house with a whole yard of them could be an issue,” he said.
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