Middle housing initiative explained

Keizer residents should not expect massive changes to housing anytime soon. The city’s Planning Director, Shane Witham, said his office has received lots of questions about new construction, and he has answers.

In late May, Keizer finalized its code project update to bring the city into compliance with the 2019 House Bill 2001 (HB2001) which expanded options for housing developers and others interested in adding more “middle housing” to Keizer.  

Since then, four new large developments have sprung up in town including three new apartment complexes on Verda Lane, River Road N, and Cherry Ave, however Witham says all three of these pre-date the middle housing legislation and were already in the planning phase when the bill passed.  The mini-storage unit on Lockhaven Drive, which is the other major construction project underway right now, isn’t connected with the middle housing legislation.

Middle housing includes duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, cottage groupings, and smaller apartment complexes. Keizer has long been dominated by single-family homes, and many of the older homes are on comparatively large lots, which could enable many residents to add a structure to their property or subdivide it and sell it to a developer.  Witham said he expects that’s how the middle housing legislation will impact the community the most.

“As these large lots are sold or partitioned for development, I expect to see duplexes and triplexes being built on existing residential properties in the next few months and years,” he said.

As of now, he’s aware of only two projects which fall under the HB2001 rules, and both are at different stages of planning and approval.

“There is one place, for sure, that I know of which will come under the new middle housing rules, and that’s a three-lot partition on Verda near the school,” said Witham. “There is also a project on Tepper Lane which began planning over a year ago, but it’s not recorded yet.”

Witham said between the Tepper Lane and Verda Road projects, as many as 14 lots could end up being created and developed for middle housing, but he explained that HB2001 doesn’t allow city planners to dictate to developers what kind of buildings they can construct, it only expands the available options.

“I hesitate to call it the Middle Housing Initiative,” said Witham. “It’s not like we can zone a specific parcel of land for middle-housing only.  It’s more like a set of rules designed to promote the kind of development the state needs, namely that in-between type housing that’s not a single-family home and not an apartment complex.”

Witham said middle housing has long been allowed in Keizer, albeit with some restrictions and permutations.  For example, he said for decades Keizer residents have been allowed to convert their residential properties to include attached dwelling units.  In 2018, state law expanded this to allow owners to build stand-alone structures which count as attached units.  However due the limited space in Keizer, city planners make residents choose between either an attached dwelling or an unattached unit, which counts as middle housing, but not both.

Resident living in the River Cherry Overlay district, however, are permitted to do both provided the plans meet building codes and other requirements for water, sewage and utilities.  Witham said this approach is consistent with the state’s rules and the overall goals of the middle housing legislation.

“Keizer residents don’t have to subdivide their property to build middle housing, either,” he said. “As long as there is enough space and the plans meet requirements, people can build a duplex if they have more than 4,000 square feet available, 5,000 for triplexes, and 7,000 for fourplexes and cottage cluster housing.”

Witham said projects like this will be how Keizer adds middle housing, but it’s very difficult to make predictions about construction projects.

“There’s the fact that we don’t control or mandate what people build, and there is also just the amount of time it takes to get a project from the planning phase to construction,” he said. “It’s hard to ascertain what the long-term impacts will be at this point.”

Witham said the planning department tracks all new construction through Marion County’s permit system, and their intention with the HB2001 rules is to do “low-level” tracking of how many middle housing projects get applied for and approved.

“We do closely track the land use in the city,” he said. “We know the number of divisions and subdivisions a given property has, but that’s not the same thing as building permit approval – all we can do is estimate once we have more data.  I expect to see a lot more middle housing once people start carving out big subdivisions.”

Witham said aside from the two projects in their early phases, he has no pending middle housing projects to approve at this time.