Julia Shumway
The Bulletin

Bend’s planning commission on Monday recommended allowing duplexes and triplexes on more lots in an attempt to address the city’s ongoing housing crisis.

City planners, the planning commission and the city’s affordable housing advisory committee have been working on the proposed changes for more than a year. Monday’s 4-1 vote means the Bend City Council will hear the changes Dec. 5, and they could take effect as soon as Jan. 18.

“It’s not going to solve the housing shortage,” planning commissioner Pete Christoff said. “We’re taking a small step that will hopefully help.”

The code change will allow duplexes on 6,000-square-foot lots and triplexes on 9,000-square-foot lots in areas of the city zoned as standard residential. Duplexes and triplexes could be built on existing vacant lots, and they could replace existing single-family homes if the owners choose to replace the home or remodel a large home into a duplex or triplex.

The standard residential zone has a density of 7.3 units per acre, but changes to city code would allow exempting duplexes and triplexes from those density standards by calculating density citywide instead. That means duplexes and triplexes benefit from having places in town that have less dense development, as well as places where parks are built in residentially zoned areas.

“It seems like you could have a pretty dense block or few blocks, feeling really urban even if you’re in an RS zone,” Christoff said. “It might even out with the golf course across town.”

To keep duplexes or triplexes from dwarfing single-family homes next door, the city recommended imposing a floor area ratio limiting the total living space and garage area for a duplex on a 6,000-square-foot lot to 3,600 square feet.

Karna Gustafson, vice president of governmental affairs for the Central Oregon Builders Association, said that rule could end up making these types of homes more expensive. Single-family homes aren’t subject to the same rule.

“You can build a monstrosity McMansion there, but you can’t build a duplex,” she said. “If you can build a single-family home, you should be able to build a duplex of the exact same size.”

Ken Atwell, a board member of Southeast Bend Neighborhood Association, said he thought the changes would have the biggest impact in the east side of Bend, where there are older, less expensive houses. He said areas where homes are on septic systems and will need to connect to the city sewer may be a target for redevelopment, and the resulting duplexes and triplexes would mean too many cars parked on streets without sidewalks.

“There will be areas that will be targeted because there is a great density of substandard housing there,” he said. “It doesn’t take too many to change the character of a neighborhood.”

While many areas of town are missing sidewalks, developers who build duplexes would have to build them if a sidewalk is within 600 feet, and triplex builders would have to build them in all cases, Bend Senior Planner Pauline Hardie said.

Duplexes and triplexes will be subject to rules about where their doors and garages are. At least one of the units in a building needs to have a front door that faces the street, not an alley, and the combined width of garage doors can’t be more than 50 percent of the total width of a building.

“We’re trying to not have garages dominate the streetscape,” Hardie said.

Those rules could result in more expensive homes, Gustafson said. “This is for baristas and nurses and student teachers, the gambit of people who don’t make a lot of money,” she said. “The prettier you make it be, the more expensive it is.”

Central Oregon LandWatch, a land use advocacy group, supported the design standards but was ambivalent about the rest of the changes. Moey Newbold, the group’s director of urban planning, said the city already made a number of policy changes that could result in more dense neighborhoods as part of its 2016 urban growth boundary expansion.

“There have been a lot of changes, and a lot of them have been good, but I’m concerned about the overall impact and whether people are really aware about the development pressures that are coming toward them,” she said.

The commission also recommended easing the review process for new townhomes.

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