City considering accessory dwelling units to address Oak Harbor’s housing shortage

Oak Harbor officials are considering a couple of measures that may make it easier for people to have accessory dwelling units.

City officials want to know what residents think about the ideas and plan to send out a survey with the next utility bills.

A task force that looked into what can be done to ameliorate the affordable housing problems on North Whidbey came up with a list of 40 recommendations last summer.

A couple of the ideas were about accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, which are self-contained residential units located on the same lot as a single-family home.

Ray Lindenburg, an associate planner for the city, on Tuesday presented the two recommendations to the city’s planning commission, along with what staff identified as the pros and cons of each.

The first recommendation is to eliminate the rule that requires property owners to live on the property. The other is to do away with a parking space requirement.

The advantage of eliminating the occupancy rule, Lindenburg said, is that it would give the property owner more flexibility. The owner could rent out each unit or the entire property. Also, he said the change would remove a “psychological barrier” and encourage more people to build ADUs.

The disadvantage, according to the planner, is that it could make it more difficult to deal with problematic or noisy tenants, which could be especially troublesome with two homes on one lot. An owner on site would be more aware of problems and be easier to contact.

Hal Hovey, a planning commissioner, questioned whether there was quantifiable evidence to show that there are fewer problems with homeowners who live in a house versus absentee homeowners.

“We have all seen situations where homeowners are worse than any renters that ever lived in the house,” he said.

Development Services Director Steve Powers said it’s a long-held belief that there are less problems when a homeowner lives on site. He said it’s the “age old struggle” between owner-occupied and rental properties.

City code currently requires an additional off-street parking space with a new ADU, but the task force recommends getting rid of the requirement.

An advantage to this, Lindenburg said, is that reduced parking would fit well with low impact development requirements, which discourage the construction of impervious surfaces. Also, it would lower the cost of building an ADU if an additional parking space wasn’t necessary, and it would create less of a visual impact.

The other side, Lindenburg explained, is that eliminating the rule would create an aberration in the code since all other residential units are required to provide parking. Also, parking on the street may become congested and could lead to more pollution from cars.

Planners looked at how 11 other cities handled the issues. Most of them required the owner to live on site, and all of them required an additional off-street parking spot for an ADU.

Powers said the purpose of the restrictions on ADUs spelled out in city code are “about protecting the property values and the character of those single-family neighborhoods.”

But as it now stands, he said, most of the current ADUs in the city are unpermitted.