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Keeping in touch: Notes from the Mayor

Mayor Lucy VinisThis blog aims to nurture our conversation and understanding of the issues before us. Every week, I will provide a weekly update on the activities in the city government, my activities as mayor, and brief reflections on progress, opportunities and challenges. You are invited to respond with reactions, insights and questions. We do this work together.

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Mar 08

Weekly Recap- March 8, 2019

Posted on March 8, 2019 at 4:43 PM by Nicole Bernstein

The first week of the month is usually quiet for council, which doesn’t normally meet.  This week was an exception: we scheduled a Wednesday meeting in order to allow council to discuss House Bill 2001.

This proposed legislation intends to increase the supply of housing choices for a range of household sizes and income levels.  Specifically, it would require the city to allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes and cottage clusters on all lots currently zoned for R-1. In Eugene, R-1 currently accounts for over 50% of our land and is predominantly developed with single family homes.  Eugene’s code allows duplex, triplex, and four-plex housing in R-1 under specific circumstances, mostly related to minimum lot size. Cottage clusters fit under our “multi-family” category and require a specific PUD (Planned Unit Development) which is a more complex planning and development process. The proposed legislation would require the city to make it easier for this smaller form of housing to be developed.

Under our operating agreements as a council, bills before the legislature are tracked by staff and those that pertain to city policies are brought to a council subcommittee of three councilors, the Intergovernmental Relations Committee  (IGR). IGR members are Councilors Taylor, Pryor and Evans. I sit on the committee as a nonvoting member. Discussions and votes by IGR direct staff’s response to the legislature -- to support, oppose or remain neutral on specific bills. If IGR is not unanimous, the discussion is taken to the full council.  In this case, the IGR initially agreed to “oppose, unless amended”, following the lead of the League of Oregon Cities, of which Councilor Evans is president. But the tension of this discussion and implications to the city’s land use planning are troubling and a discussion with the full council felt important.

To summarize a long and challenging meeting, council as a whole is most troubled by the preemption of local control.  The proposed bill would override our existing code and our significant investment in Envision Eugene and subsequent planning efforts.  On that basis, council voted to direct staff to oppose the bill outright, without the option of “unless amended.”

I had encouraged council to keep a foot in the door (keeping “unless amended” in their direction) to empower staff to try to work toward amendments.  My concern is that this bill will pass in some form without the city of Eugene having an opportunity to shape the amendments in ways that would best align with our existing planning priorities.

This is one of several bills pertaining to housing supply and affordability and these discussions heighten the urgency around our votes on Accessory Dwelling Units and the Construction Excise Tax.  This coming Wednesday, council will also discuss the next iteration of the Housing Tools and Strategies work -- the list of processes and code adjustments that might reduce the cost of housing and support increased construction of housing at a range of levels.