Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Deschutes County code changes that will allow some rural residents to build additional homes on their properties won unanimous approval from the county’s planning commission Thursday night.

The recommendation, which will head to the County Commission for final approval in mid-April, could result in up to 113 additional homes in the rural county, most of which would be around Bend or Redmond. It’s the county’s reaction to a 2017 state law that lets counties decide whether they want to permit landowners in residential rural areas to keep older homes on the property even if they decide to build a new home.

Deschutes County Planning Manager Peter Gutowsky said the County Commission saw the change as significant even though relatively few properties could be affected. Only one person testified about it in front of the planning commission during an earlier hearing.

“The board felt that this is such a specific piece of legislation that it should go through a separate public process,” Gutowsky said.

If the County Commission approves this change, landowners whose rural homes were built before 1945 can build new homes or place a manufactured home on the land and keep the existing house as an additional dwelling. Without it, they’d have to demolish the older home if they wanted to build a new home.

“This is one more opportunity to provide homes,” Deschutes County Community Development Director Nick Lelack said.

The new rules would apply only to properties that are at least 2 acres and in residentially zoned areas. Deschutes County wouldn’t require owners to live in either the old or new home, but it would ban short-term rentals.

A bill that would extend that cutoff to homes built before 1974 had a hearing in the state House Committee on Agriculture and Land Use, but a vote on whether to advance it has yet to be scheduled. The committee chair has until the end of the day Friday to schedule a vote, or the bill dies for the year.

The changes voted on Thursday by Deschutes County’s planning commission apply to only 113 properties in the county, but state legislators are considering another bill that could put multiple homes on more properties in rural areas.

Lelack was part of a group that worked on a proposal that would allow accessory dwelling units — typically seen as small apartments above garages or attached to homes within city limits — in rural areas.

That proposal is Oregon Senate Bill 88, and it’s supported by groups including the Association of Oregon Counties and the Bend Chamber of Commerce as a way to ease housing crunches in communities like Deschutes County. Critics, including environmental watchdog nonprofit Central Oregon LandWatch, questioned whether allowing more development in rural areas would exacerbate wildfire risk.

Deschutes County estimates between 7,500 and 8,000 properties could potentially be eligible to add accessory dwelling units if the bill passes, Lelack said. That’s in question because the bill hasn’t advanced from the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and will cost the state money.

The Association of Oregon Counties is hopeful about the bill’s chances, he said.

“They are still optimistic that it will move forward this session, and that’s the latest I heard,” Lelack said.

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