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Hermiston council unpacks storage container rules

The Hermiston city council discussed rules for using metal shipping containers as storage, and for accessory dwelling units such as guest houses and apartments over the garage.
By Jade McDowell

Staff Writer

Published on June 12, 2018 7:07PM

Last changed on June 13, 2018 10:27AM

Staff photo by Daniel Wattenburger. City planner Clint Spencer said this metal shipping container used for storage at the Chevron station on the corner of Highway 395 and Gladys Avenue would comply with the proposed ordinance regulating such containers.

Staff photo by Daniel Wattenburger. City planner Clint Spencer said this metal shipping container used for storage at the Chevron station on the corner of Highway 395 and Gladys Avenue would comply with the proposed ordinance regulating such containers.

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The Hermiston city council changed its mind mid-meeting on one property issue Monday and decided to ask the public about another before moving forward.

The council first rejected a proposed update to accessory dwelling regulations, then after further discussion gave the planning commission the go-ahead for starting the public hearing process. After hearing mixed reviews on an idea to ban use of metal shipping containers for storage in residential zones, they asked city staff to survey the public about it.

City councilor John Kirwan had commented at a previous meeting that he was seeing an increase of metal shipping containers, often referred to as Conex boxes, being used as a storage shed next to a house. He inquired about regulations for such use, and after finding out there was none, councilors asked city staff to consider drafting some rules.

On Monday during a work session city planner Clint Spencer presented a “first draft” recommendation from the planning commission for feedback. The rules would ban use of the containers in residential zones, leaving an exemption for temporary uses up to 60 days in a year or up to 120 days when connected to a construction project that has been issued a building permit. In commercial and industrial zones one container per lot (in a commercial zone) or per acre (for industrial) could be used, provided it was painted the same color as the primary building, rust-free, logo-free, on a concrete or asphalt slab and has been granted a building permit. In all zones, the regulations would only apply to new containers, not existing ones.

Councilors had mixed feelings about the proposal. Doug Smith said he didn’t want to see a lot of the shipping containers popping up in residential neighborhoods, but later during the council’s regular meeting said he thought the city should get feedback on what seemed like it could be a polarizing issue.

Mayor David Drotzmann said some shipping containers next to houses were unsightly, but he wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with one in someone’s back yard, painted a subtle color and mostly out of sight. He said he “understood the visibility issue” but wasn’t sure he wanted to see the city take away an affordable storage option for people.

“I’m struggling with it a little bit,” he said. “I don’t like the way they look, but I don’t like the way some of my neighbors’ houses look either.”

Comments from the public were mixed too. Jackie Linton said she thought shipping containers would look out of place in her Beebe Avenue neighborhood, which looks residential but is actually zoned commercial, but she didn’t have a problem with them in more rural neighborhoods with larger lots. Randy Smith questioned why the city needed such an ordinance at all.

Councilors directed city staff to survey Hermiston residents and bring the feedback to a future council meeting.

The council also discussed another set of recommendations from the planning commission Monday, for accessory dwelling units. Spencer said those could include guest houses, basement apartments, apartments over garages and other “mother-in-law” apartments.

“If you’re a fan of Happy Days, where Fonzi lived was an ADU,” he said.

Spencer said the state legislature passed new laws for ADUs that take effect July 1, including a requirement that new ADUs have permits. Spencer said Hermiston has always allowed accessory dwelling units only if no rent was charged for them, but the new law forces the city to allow people to charge rent for guest houses, basement apartments and other ADUs on their property. He said it was “frustrating” that the state had arbitrarily changed the character of Hermiston’s zoning code by turning all of its single-family residential zones into multi-family residential areas.

To address the changes, the planning commission spent three months crafting amendments to the city’s code. The new requirements state that accessory dwelling units must meet all building codes, include a bathroom and kitchen, be accessible from a separate entrance than the main dwelling and come with one to two additional paved offstreet parking spaces depending on the number of bedrooms. The dwellings will be subject to a permit and permit fee, and will be charged the utility rate for multi-family dwellings.

City councilor Jackie Myers wanted to see additional rules about the ADU having to match the primary dwelling and setting aesthetic standards, and other councilors agreed, but Spencer said the advice of legal counsel was that wouldn’t hold up as a “reasonable” standard under the law because the city doesn’t have rules for what colors people can paint their primary residence, for example.

Myers said she wished the city could tell people that.

When it came time for a vote, only councilors Doug Primmer and Lori Davis voted in favor of having the city start the public hearing and notice process to turn the regulations into law. But afterward Drotzmann expressed the feeling that the regulations were likely as extensive as the planning commission was able to make them, and Spencer confirmed that there wasn’t much more the commission could add after legal counsel had directed them to take out multiple design standards that had originally been included. He also said that the state law takes effect on July 1 no matter what the city passes to “put siderails” on the issue, and that it could always be revised later.

That persuaded Myers, Gutierrez, Smith and Hardin, who voted with Primmer and Davis this time after Myers made another motion to once again consider moving forward with the public process to adopt the new standards.


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