Florence Housing Code update nears completion

Florence City Manager Erin Reynolds talks about how “every conversation about economic development came back to housing” during Wednesday’s Housing Code Amendments Info Session.

2019 update should ease area’s housing burden

Nov. 9, 2019 - The ongoing Florence Planning Code update was the subject of a moderately well-attended informational meeting at City Hall Wednesday evening. 

The rewrite of the housing code has been underway since the beginning of the year and this meeting was held to inform residents of many of the changes as currently envisioned by the Planning Commission and city staff. The changes being proposed have incorporated the significant work done by the Planning Commission under the direction and guidance of City Planning Manager Wendy Farley Campbell. The anticipated changes will encompass most aspects of what can be built, where it can be built and the manner in which it can be built. 

According to ci.florence.or.us, the stated goals of the update are:

  1. Provide the opportunity for a variety of housing styles to fit various household lifestyles and incomes
  2. Revise density in the residential districts to increase ownership opportunities and provide opportunities for substandard lot infill
  3. Improve Planned Unit Development review code to ensure enhanced quality of life intended with the relaxation of code criteria
  4. Update land division code to reflect current state laws and local needs.

Florence Mayor Joe Henry greeted those in attendance, commenting briefly on the need for the update to stimulate construction growth and acknowledging the many hours of work staff and volunteers had done on the update.

City Manager Erin Reynolds then spoke to attendees, providing a brief overview that touched on the need for an update to the code which will direct builders and homeowners in the future. 

There was not an opportunity for public comments at the meeting, but Reynolds pointed out there were staff on hand to assist with questions.

“We are a city in motion, and we’ve got a lot of things going on, but tonight we are going to talk about this one aspect of what makes us a ‘city in motion,’” Reynolds said, acknowledging the city’s theme. “Staff will be around to answer your individual questions, but we are going to do a broad overview. I know a lot of you have already been talking — as you entered the room — and we can talk about your specific properties as well. We can also make sure to schedule appointments with the Planning Department and they can help you.”

The reason for the update is due primarily to the need to add more homes to the housing market as quickly as possible, as well as to change specific codes related to home building.

There is also a need to recognize new types of design styles and increasing demands to provide dwellings of different sizes and configurations than in the past.

Requirements for lot sizes and setbacks from public property will change, as will many other aspects of construction. 

The city is considering new rules that will allow for smaller homes to be built on smaller lots than previously permitted, such as auxiliary dwelling units (ADUs). 

There will also be reductions in the fees charged by the city related to development and planning. 

The rewrite of the code is the most significant change to the way the city interacts with the construction sector since it was last modified decades ago — a point that was highlighted by both Reynolds and Florence Planning Director Wendy FarleyCampbell.

City Recorder and Economic Coordinator Kelli Weese, who has been deeply involved in the code update project, presented reasons from the city’s perspective for what essentially amounts to a complete rewrite of applicable city code.

“Why is this important and why are we working on these issues? Countywide, more than 40 percent of our families spend at least 30 percent of their income on housing,” she said.

She continued by saying that due to a lower family income average in Florence, residents here are often paying even more than the county average for housing — which, at this time, is in short supply at all price points. 

Another important part of the equation is the need for affordable housing for employees constructing the housing, as well as those in the service sector of Florence’s economy.

“This disconnect between income and housing costs is really the nexus of a lot of this need,” Weese said. “And that is why we are really trying to focus on ways to streamline our regulations and cut costs for developers whenever we can — so that we can really start to chip away at this need. Right now, in Florence, if you want to develop a more unique type of housing — like cottage clusters, ADUs or duets, which is like a duplex with each person owning a side — you would have to go before the Planning Commission in order to get approval. That means before any money is determined and before the developer even knows if the project will be viable, they have to spend thousands of dollars on architecture and design just to figure that out.”

FarleyCampbell then spoke in detail regarding some of the changes that builders and residents could expect. She showed a series of maps and data, which is available on the city website under the tab “Residential Code Update,” during her presentation. 

The proposed changes to Florence’s Residential Housing Code will be discussed again at the joint Planning Commission and City Council meeting on Nov. 18.

To find out how these changes might impact a particular project, residents, builders and developers should call the Planning Department and schedule an appointment for clarification. 

The overall message shared with the public at Wednesday’s meeting was best expressed by Weese.

“One of the most straight-forward ways the city can work on this issue is to work on our development codes and, as we have said before, they haven’t been revamped since the 1980s. A lot of things have changed since then. … There is no quick fix, there is no easy answer, it’s just making everything as streamlined as possible,” she said.

The Nov. 18 public hearing on the proposed code amendments will be held at the Florence Events Center, 715 Quince St., beginning at 5:30 p.m. 

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