The Hermiston city council took a step Monday toward its goal of promoting housing development in Hermiston.
The council added multi-family dwellings as a conditional use in a commercial zone off Highland Avenue and also gave planning staff the green light to begin researching and preparing code amendments that will make residential development easier and more profitable in Hermiston.
“Let’s get some more houses built,” said mayor David Drotzmann.
The council held a public hearing Monday on creation of a neighborhood commercial overlay zone that would add multi-family dwellings and mini-storage as allowable uses on a roughly eight acre section of land along Highland Avenue west of Southwest 11th Street.
No apartment buildings are currently in the works for the empty lots, but city planner Clint Spencer said when a developer asked that mini-storage be added to the zone, the planning commission felt it was a good opportunity to also add multi-family dwellings as an allowable use to the area.
“That property has been vacant for a very long time with commercial zoning,” he said.
Steve Richards of Eastern Oregon Development, LLC told the council if mini-storage were added to the allowable uses in the zone, he plans to build a storage facility with 300 to 370 units on a parcel just east of the Gotta Stop Mini Mart. Richards owns mini-storage facilities in Pendleton and Stanfield and said his Stanfield facility has about 20 Hermiston customers who can not find room at a Hermiston facility.
Richards said a study by appraiser Doug Barak showed Hermiston’s storage facilities are at about 95 percent capacity at any given time. He also offered up a 100-signature petition from residents on the west side of town supporting a mini storage facility in his proposed location.
“Of all of them I approached, two of them declined to sign the petition,” he said.
Spencer reported that at the planning commission’s hearing, a neighbor expressed concern about increased traffic and loitering, but other neighbors said they would appreciate any development that reduced the dust and weeds.
The council unanimously approved the overlay, noting that since storage facilities and apartment buildings were approved as conditional uses, the city would still have a large amount of control over approving proposed projects based on their details.
Adding multi-family dwellings to the zone was an example of the type of changes the planning department and commission hope to continue to make after the city council named promoting housing development one of their top priorities during a January goal-setting session.
On Monday the council also approved a recommendation from the planning commission to “direct city staff to begin research and preparation of residential code amendments and initiate changes to the zoning ordinance to promote residential development.”
Spencer said the planning commission recently had a “very productive, very open-ended” round-table discussion with area developers about what their biggest barriers are in keeping up with Hermiston’s housing demand.
Developers at the meeting named three main barriers: High demand has pushed buildable land in Hermiston to such a high price that it becomes difficult to make a profit on new homes, a contractor shortage in the area has pushed labor costs up and infrastructure can also be cost prohibitive.
Spencer said the planning commission has noted the city has “very conservative” requirements for easements and setbacks that, if reduced, could help developers turn more of a profit on putting in new housing developments. If setbacks were changed from seven feet to five feet, for example, more houses could be built in a single development, giving more of an incentive to start building.
Troy White, who owns property near the Hermiston Cinema, testified the changes Spencer was talking about would help make development of his land more attractive because he could fit 20 homes there instead of 16.
Spencer also said the planning commission wanted to start looking on a case by case basis at “infill” properties, which are surrounded by residential development but some particular problem has held back development of that single empty lot or two. Adding more overlays, like the council approved earlier in the night for the property off Highland Avenue, could be one tool for addressing that, Spencer said.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.