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Hermiston council eases rules to encourage housing development

The Hermiston city council voted Monday to change residential development standards and create a new program for infill properties.
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on September 27, 2017 7:08AM

Residential properties that have laid empty in Hermiston may come to life after the city relaxed residential development standards and approved a new infill properties program Monday.

In response to a city council goal of encouraging more housing development, the city’s planning commission had two workshops with members of the real estate community and wrote a set of amendments to the city’s code. City Planner Clint Spencer said one of the biggest problems facing developers in Hermiston is the high cost of bare land, and one developer had commented that even being able to put one or two extra houses into a development often makes the difference to whether a project pencils out.

“We want to help them recoup their investment,” he said.

To do that, the city reduced lot size requirements by 1,000 square feet, with the exception of lots for duplexes in R-3 zones, which went from a minimum of 7,000 square feet to 6,500 square feet. Lot coverage maximums were increased by 10 percent in each zone, with a single family dwelling in an R-1 zone now allowed to take up 40 percent of the lot instead of 30, plus another 10 percent for a porch, gazebo or patio. Front yard setbacks were also reduced. While garages must still be 20 feet from the front of a property, other parts of the home can now come within 15 feet and covered porches can come within 10.

Spencer had previously called Hermiston’s standards more conservative than in many other cities, and the planning commission recommended the changes the council adopted.

For “infill” properties inside the city that are surrounded by other development but face some constraint such as an unusual shape, the council adopted a new program in which owners can more easily apply for variances.

Spencer said he often sees properties where an additional house could be added, but owners lose interest when they find out they would face a long process with multiple applications, multiple hearings and a $420 fee per variance.

“The cost of doing it is so high they just walk away,” he said.

For such properties there will now be a single process in which all of the applications for the needed variances could be combined into one streamlined process costing $475.

Spencer said the infill program would only be available for properties where applicants have shown that they cannot develop the property without multiple variances.

“They have to come in and say ‘There’s no way I can do x, y and z,’” he said.

Spencer said the other two barriers that Hermiston faces for residential development are critical infrastructure needs and the high cost of skilled labor. The city is currently working on a capital improvement plan for infrastructure, and Spencer said they were looking at what they could do for the labor problem, which is made difficult by the lack of license reciprocity agreements between Oregon and Washington to allow contractors licensed in one state to work in the other.


Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.


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