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In move to comply with state housing rules, county adopts zoning criteria for accessory dwelling units

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Final revisions of an ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units in unincorporated areas of Columbia County were approved Wednesday, Feb. 13.

COURTESY RAINBOW VALLEY DESIGN/FRED JOE PHOTOGRAPHY - This accessory dwelling unit in Southeast Portland by Rainbow Valley Design fits two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room and a kitchen into 700 square feet.Columbia County commissioners unanimously approved amendments to the county's zoning ordinance that now allow for ADUs or "granny flats" in urban growth boundaries throughout the county.

The zone changes bring the county into compliance with state regulations that call for ADUs to be allowed within UGBs of cities in an effort to add more affordable housing in Oregon. UGBs are areas outside of city limits that have been identified for growth and possible future annexation into city limits.

Columbia County defines an ADU as "a self-contained interior, attached or detached residential structure that is used in connection with, or accessory to, a single family dwelling."

The new rules allow ADUs to be built or existing spaces like garages to be converted to living space in single-family residential areas within UGBs. Any new or converted buildings need to comply with the development codes for the UGB of the city in which they are being developed. That means an accessory building in St. Helens used for housing needs to be consistent with St. Helens building codes, but the development permit would still go through Columbia County's Land Development Services for approval.

Commissioners first started reviewing criteria for ADUs in 2018. As planning staff and land use attorneys with the county worked to craft language and regulations, commissioners heard from some in the public who suggested the county should allow ADUs in residential areas throughout the county, not just growth boundaries.

Henry Heimuller, chair of the county's board of commissioners, said that could happen in the future. He said the county's first priority was to comply with new state legislation.

"The core component of it was to expand that ability to put ADUs within urban growth boundaries," Heimuller said Wednesday. "The discussion is ongoing at Salem in this legislative session as to whether or not to do the mandate type process. We feel like it's better for us to see what comes out of the state first."

While cities already have their own criteria for ADUs, data suggest not many people have built them in the county. In Scappoose, about seven permits have been issued since 2001 to convert garages to living spaces, according to city records, but those permits didn't include the addition of plumbing for bathrooms or kitchens within the spaces, city staff noted.

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