Editorial: Bend has some promising ideas for housing flexibility

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Bend city councilors, staff and residents will always debate what the city should be doing to create more housing. But the city has a couple of promising ideas, which were brought before the city’s affordable housing committee this week for discussion.

The first idea is to allow more flexibility in the city’s cottage code. The city should do it.

The cottage code allows people to build a cluster of smaller homes. At least half of them have to front on a common open space. There are other requirements, as well.

Developers have asked for more wiggle room within the requirements. They would like to go slightly bigger, increasing the maximum unit size. The current limit for a unit without a garage is 1,100 square feet. They would like that bumped up to 1,200 square feet. Sounds reasonable.

Developers also would like to reduce the requirement for covered porches from 80 square feet to 60 square feet and not require that they be covered. Alternatively, they’d like to keep the original 80 square feet but only require that 50% be covered.

Additional flexibility makes sense. It’s surely exciting for city planners to determine how cottages in Bend should look. But they’re getting too far into the weeds when they decide cottage porches must have a specific area of coverage. Why not let future residents of these homes and architects design them?

The second housing change under discussion would allow something called shared courts.

There isn’t anything really like it in Bend. It would look something like this: Take at least an acre-sized lot. In the examples provided by the city, there are two parallel rows of town homes. One could front the street. The second would front a private access drive that runs between the two rows of town homes. Parking for the homes would likely be in a first floor garage. There would likely be no parking — other than temporary — on the access drive. Developers already have properties in mind where this design would allow them to do what they want.

The shared court developments might be allowed in the city’s more dense residential zoning types — what’s called RM, RH and also in mixed-use neighborhoods. The city crunched the numbers for us, and more than 70% of residential neighborhoods in Bend have the less dense RS zoning.

Bend needs more housing options. And if the city isn’t going to be allowed to grow out, renters, owners and developers should get flexibility in the how the city grows in.

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