At City Hall: ‘Big changes’ to housing development code | News

Andreas Milano

City officials say big changes are coming to St. Helens housing and residential parking rules and the public’s input can help determine what those changes look like. If you care about the housing and parking impacts that these new rules might have on your neighborhood, the city is encouraging you […]

City officials say big changes are coming to St. Helens housing and residential parking rules and the public’s input can help determine what those changes look like.

If you care about the housing and parking impacts that these new rules might have on your neighborhood, the city is encouraging you to attend the St. Helens Planning Commission meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9.

In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring St. Helens and other cities to allow duplexes to be built anywhere that a regular detached home can be built. The law also requires the cities have identical parking requirements for both duplexes and single homes. The city of St. Helens is also proposing to allow two detached homes to be built anywhere that a duplex is allowed.

St. Helens currently requires that duplexes have twice as many off street parking spaces (four) as a home (two). Under the new state law, that can no longer be the case.

According to a information posted on the city of St. Helens website, while St. Helens can’t change this new requirement, the city can decide how the required parking spots must be constructed on a property. The can be built either side by side (where two vehicles are parked next to each other and don’t block either vehicle’s access to the road), or tandem, (where one parking space would be in a garage and the other space would be directly in front of it in a driveway only wide enough for one vehicle). Tandem is not allowed currently.

If you care about the housing and parking impacts that these new rules might have on your neighborhood, the city is encouraging you to attend the St. Helens Planning Commission meeting via Zoom at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 9. There will be time for public comment during the meeting. You can also provide your opinion to city staff in writing before the meeting.

While the planning commission can’t change the state’s new parking requirements, this meeting will help decide whether those parking spots are side-by-side or tandem (one blocking the other) or determine circumstances where tandem parking would be allowed, accordinf to the city’s online release.

The planning commission’s recommendation about the code changes is expected to be discussed by the St. Helens City Council for final review at a public meeting April 7.

Municipal codes are updated periodically for a variety of reasons. The St. Helens development code, a part of the St. Helens municipal code, is the location of St. Helens’ development laws. This includes zoning and other standards that apply to everything from building a single home on a residential lot to developing factory on a large industrial property.

This year, the City of St. Helens is proposing to amend its development code largely due to Oregon House Bill 2001. In 2019, the Oregon Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed into law, House Bill 2001. This bill was passed with the intent to increase housing choice and supply. To learn more about HB 2001, check the State of Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development webpage at:

HB 2001 requires that St. Helens amend its zoning laws to allow a duplex anywhere a normal home (technically referred to as a detached single-family dwelling) is allowed. In addition, any development standards such as parking requirements and setbacks must be the same for duplexes and detached single-family dwellings.

Like most cities in Oregon, St. Helens has rules that prohibit duplexes in some residential areas or requires a special permit called a conditional use permit in other areas. Where they are allowed, St. Helens also has different standards that apply to duplexes compared to detached single family dwellings such as more parking and larger lot sizes. St. Helens needs to change this by the end of June of this year as required by HB 2001.

“This is a big deal,” the city’s release states. “This will end what is known as “single-family zoning” in St. Helens. This kind of zoning basically means that the standard home (detached single-family dwelling) is the use favored over all others.”

In the United States, the majority of residential land is “single-family zoning,”  according to the city’s release and it has housing supply and affordability implications. Single-family zoning is also thought to promote race discrimination and inequity in the United States as well.

HB 2001 required staff to thoroughly comb through the development code to figure out what changes are necessary to comply with the House Bill and those that may not be necessary but should be changed, as is practical with the limited time available.

Some of the code amendments are “housekeeping” efforts, where the code may be outdated, or could be improved. Some amendments are not related to HB 2001 at all, but since staff needed to take great effort to review the code, it made sense to help clean the code up too, where feasible, the city’s release states.

“Codes can be complex and strange to read if you are not used to reading them,” the city says in its online release. “This can make reading amendments like these mind boggling. Here are the key highlights that may be of interest to most people:

  • Anywhere a detached single-family home is allowed, duplexes need to be allowed as well. This is mandated by HB 2001.
  • Development standards (like lot size, setbacks and parking) must be the same for duplexes as detached single-family dwellings. This is mandated by HB 2001.
  • The city is proposing to allow two detached homes anywhere where a duplex could go. This is not mandated by HB 2001, but proposed based on discussions with the City Council.
  • The city has setback (yard) standards now that requires a certain distance of buildings from property lines. Along with allowing two detached homes on a lot, the city is proposing a required distance between buildings ranging from 6’ to 10’ depending on zoning. This is not mandated by HB 2001. Without these standards, the state building code would still apply which can allow separation closer then 6’ but with fire rated construction, generally.
  • Note that residential sheds and other smaller buildings that do not need a permit (200 square feet and under, generally) have a smaller setback requirement now. They are proposed to also have smaller building separation standards (three feet, generally).
  • For most residential zones, the maximum building and structure coverage is increasing from 35% to 40%. This is not mandated by HB 2001. 35% is a decades old standard that has seemed overly restrictive over the years compared to what people want to build. The Council specifically asked for this change to be included.
  • Currently, a single home needs two parking spaces and a duplex needs four. HB 2001 limits the parking allowed to two spaces for duplexes (or two detached homes). The number of spaces is mandated by HB 2001, though how the two spaces are calculated is not (as long as it does not treat uses differently).

Today, if you built a new home, the city would require two parking spaces that can be used without other vehicles having to move out of the way. Normally, this would be two spaces side-by-side (non-tandem). Part of the discussion during the public hearings will be whether the city should allow tandem parking (one space in front of the other) to meet this requirement.

An example of tandem parking would be a single-car garage (space #1) with a one-car width driveway in front of that (space #2) between the garage and street.

Currently, city standards limit the number of driveways from a street to one per residential lot developed with a typical home. The only exception to this are duplexes on corner lots that may have two driveways, one on each street.

The city proposes to change this to allow any corner lot (developed with a typical home, duplex, or two detached homes) to have a driveway on each street. In addition, any lot that abuts a street that has no on-street parking may have a second driveway. There will still be limits based on other standards such as restrictions on roads that handle greater volumes of traffic such as Gable Road, Sykes Road, Pittsburg Road, and Old Portland Road.

This is not entirely mandated by HB 2001, but largely based on observations by staff that the one driveway per lot rule does not make sense for some narrow low volume streets like DuBois Lane, Clark Street, and Belton Road.

There are two public hearings scheduled for these amendments:

  • 8 p.m. March 9, with the St. Helens Planning Commission, who will make a recommendation to the St. Helens City Council.
  • April 7,  with the City Council who has the authority to make the final decision.

The meetings are scheduled as Zoom meetings due to the current pandemic health and safety requirements.

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