Cannon Beach takes another swing at housing incentives

Cannon Beach will consider a new affordable housing package in September.

CANNON BEACH — A pared-down version of an affordable housing package that was rejected by the City Council earlier this year will be presented at a public hearing in September.

The original proposal, brought to the council by Mike Clark of Coaster Properties and former City Planner Rainmar Bartl, asked the city to reduce parking and landscaping requirements, as well as relax height restrictions in the residential zone designated for multifamily housing. The proposal would have also allowed multifamily housing in a commercial zone as an outright use.

The incentives would have only applied if a developer agreed to put a deed restriction on a project that would forbid the units from ever turning into vacation rentals or condominiums. The two argued the changes would remove roadblocks from developers looking to build affordable housing, as they help drive construction costs down, which would in turn keep rents lower.

But in April the majority of the City Council disagreed, arguing that the changes in no way guaranteed that rents would be affordable and instead would have led to developers tearing down and rebuilding single-family homes to rent at market prices in the residential zone.

At the urging of Mayor Sam Steidel and City Councilor Brandon Ogilvie, who both voted for the original package, the city is considering a scaled-back version of the amendments. The new goal is to refocus on encouraging development of deed-restricted long-term rentals.

“I feel there is a need for long-term housing across all strata,” Ogilvie said.

Under the new proposal, the deed restriction is kept. Parking requirements would still be reduced and height restrictions for multifamily dwellings would still be increased from 28 feet to 32 feet to match the current standard for hotels — but only for properties in the limited commercial zone. Because multifamily housing is a conditional use in this zone, the Planning Commission would still have discretion to approve or deny variances related to parking and height on a case-by-case basis.

With almost 90 percent of commercial land already developed in Cannon Beach, limiting changes to this zone would be a relatively low-risk way to experiment with new regulations, City Planner Mark Barnes said.

“It’s not identical to workforce housing, but broadly in the rental market, this kind of housing is not made or marketed for the upper market,” Barnes said.

While City Councilors Nancy McCarthy and George Vetter both recognized the need for long-term housing, they remain lukewarm on the changes. McCarthy said she still takes issue with the fact the proposal has no way to guarantee rents on deed-restricted properties would stay affordable, which is ultimately the problem the council set out to address.

Vetter agreed, adding that it is a gamble to possibly loosen standards for a developer that may not build housing that is accessible to workers and year-round residents.

“(Developers) are going to rent out units at the highest value they can,” Vetter said. “Our best hope is another employer in town who wants to build employee housing sees this and says, ‘I could make this work now.’”

Steidel urged the council to see the amendments as a framework they could build upon in the future to incentivize affordable projects. Without some regulatory shifts, Steidel said, the city won’t get developers even interested in coming to the table.

“For a developer, these changes could make a project pencil out,” the mayor said.

Councilor Mike Benefield, who voted against the original package, said he is willing to try the changes in the commercial zone, since it would not impact the majority of residential areas.

But the council needs to call it what it is, he said.

“Let’s stop calling it affordable housing amendments. I don’t see this as affordable housing — this is long-term housing,” Benefield said. “We still need a long-term effort to address affordable housing.”

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