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Neighbors Weigh In On Code Changes

Proposed changes to Eugene zoning, designed to preside over secondary dwelling units (SDUs) built next to existing homes, detached structures such as garages and lots accessed through alleys, brought neighbors to the city’s Planning Commission public hearing Tuesday. A coalition of 45 neighborhood association board members and leaders brought a memorandum of suggested changes to the code amendments designed to prevent too many changes in neighborhood character and livability. Others protested some of the changes were too restrictive on building small structures.

Many of the public comments focused on neighborhoods around campus, with Eugeneans testifying that too many absentee landlords and fewer owner-occupants have damaged livability. “The bottom line is right now, there’s an exodus of people out of our neighborhoods,” says Carolyn Jacobs, South University Neighborhood chair. South University, Fairmount and Amazon are slated for a temporary exemption on the new rules and strict building ban on SDUs over the next few years while a permanent building standards for the three neighborhoods is finalized.

Neighbors noted that out-of-town landlords and developers sometimes add bedrooms to increase rent at the expense of green space, and many homes with SDUs don’t have a property owner living in one of the units, a violation of Eugene code. Enforcement, they say, is a big problem. Another Eugenean said her family moved when the current code amendments allowed student housing that peered over their yards.

Some Eugeneans testified that they bought homes planning to add SDUs, limited to 800 sq. ft. by law, for aging parents or to live in upon retirement.

Christine Ratchinsky and Benjamin Crandall bought their home in the Amazon neighborhood five years ago, planning to add a 300-sq.-ft. guest cottage or meditation room later as an SDU. Now, they say, they’re hurrying to do so before the code amendments go into place. “We are getting plans together because we’re not sure what this interim measure means and how long it’s going to go on,” she says. “That’s the big question.”

Crandall suggested making SDUs with an owner-occupied unit exempt, saying that people living on site are more likely to create projects preserving green space and compatible with the neighborhood. Ratchinsky and Crandall also noted that lowering the limit on unrelated people allowed to live together from five to four or three, as one resident suggested, would mean they couldn’t live with another couple. It might also affect cohousing.

Planning Commissioner John Belcher says that interim measures limiting SDU growth and alley-access lots would only affect a small number of units. “They’re only talking about 125 units over 20 years, so interim measures over a year or two or three, my guess is no,” he says, they won’t make a big difference overall.

Public comments are due by 5 pm Tuesday, Sept. 17, to alissa.h.hansen@ci.eugene.or.us.