News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Habitat can build at higher density

Sisters Habitat for Humanity has won approval to build at greater density in a neighborhood at the west end of town.

The Sisters Planning Commission voted 4-2 to approve — with conditions — an application from Habitat for Humanity to make 10 lots from an existing six lots to accommodate attached or detached single-family houses in the Village Meadows subdivision.

The vote came at the end of a 2-1/2-hour hearing covering a number of issues, not necessarily relevant to this hearing, that the Planning Commission can expect to be addressing more and more often as Sisters continues to grow within its existing Urban Growth Boundary (UGB).

The property is located in the northwest section of Sisters, sitting south of West McKinney Butte Road and bordered by North Brooks Camp Road to the east and North Desert Rose Loop to the west. The property was originally approved as part of the entire Village Meadows Master Plan and Subdivision application in December 2005, which enabled construction of 30 single-family lots and 48 multi-family units.

In 2012, Habitat purchased 17 of those lots from the initial developer, which were originally approved to be single-family detached units. In May 2015, Habitat received approval for a modification for all 17 lots to allow for zero lot line dwellings (in addition to single-family detached; modification of CC&Rs to allow fences; and vehicle access from Brooks Camp Road for up to four of the double-frontage lots between Brooks Camp Road and Desert Rose Loop.

Zero lot line homes on neighboring properties are each built on the shared lot line but are not attached to each other. By being built on the lot line with no setback, the other side of each house is able to have a larger, more useable side yard.

A part of the request for modification to the Master Plan is a request for approval of a second design option that would allow Habitat to construct detached single-family homes on lots that are 3,600 square feet or greater in size. The minimum lot size requirement for detached single-family homes in the MFR zone is 4,500 square feet.

Habitat wants to provide four more affordable housing units as the supply of buildable land, particularly for low-cost housing, is disappearing from the city. According to Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Sharlene Weed, when the 17 lots (at 6,000 to 7,000 square feet) were purchased by Habitat in 2012, the appraised value of each lot was $33,000. The appraised value today for the 10 smaller lots resulting from the replat is $93,000 each.

Habitat has applied for $900,000 in Local Innovation and Fast Track (LIFT) funds from the state to build the new homes on smaller lots. To qualify for those funds, the homes must remain affordable forever. In order to do that, Habitat will sell the homes as land-lease homes, meaning the purchaser owns the home and leases the land it sits on from Habitat. When the home is sold, it must be for what is at that time considered affordable according to the current median income. The new purchaser only has to pay for the house and not the land, which continues to be leased from Habitat.

In their deliberations, the commissioners must base their decisions on the current code requirements of the City. If the application meets those requirements, they can either approve as requested or with conditions, which have to be tied to code requirements. Most of the commissioners admitted this was a difficult decision, particularly after hearing the concerns of the surrounding neighbors on Desert Rose Loop and looking to possible future problems as a result of the approval.

The City engineer is imposing several conditions of approval related to frontage requirements including widening of Brooks Camp Road by one foot, construction of a public sidewalk, swale, and 15 parallel parking spaces. As they are adjacent to the subject property, Habitat is responsible for that construction on the west side of the road.


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