Housing code changes in Woodland postponed


Potential changes to Woodland’s housing code have been postponed due to public backlash.

During its Nov. 7 meeting, the Woodland City Council voted unanimously to postpone a vote for an ordinance that would allow for more housing types and other changes to current city code, which was intended to increase housing density.

The predominant changes under consideration would allow for corner-lot duplexes, an increase in lot number for the short-plat process, an allowance for accessory dwelling units, allowances for triplex and other higher-density housing types, and a minimum density standard to encourage the use of the changes, according to a staff report presented to the council.

Although the passage of the changes in a first reading in October came with little fanfare, multiple people spoke against the ordinance at the November meeting.

Donna Butler, a person who spoke at the meeting, dismissed the need to open up the city’s housing code.

“Woodland already has a great diversity of housing in place,” Butler said. 

She said there were four low-income apartment complexes in the city and noted Woodland’s housing diversity, which features single-family homes with multiple-car garages to mobile home parks. 

“We even have storage units that some people use for housing. I don’t think it’s supposed to happen, but my daughter lives near that and observes that,” Butler said.

The ordinance under consideration stemmed from a 2020 grant from the state government that was given to the city in order to research ways to increase urban housing density.

“I don’t think we have a problem here that we need to address with this ordinance,” Butler said.

Multiple speakers claimed the ordinance would allow for commercial uses in Woodland regardless of zoning. Woodland Community Development Director Travis Goddard said that wasn’t true.

“It was a misconception that was out in the community that we were going to allow commercial uses in any residential zone. That’s not at all what we were talking about,” Goddard said in an interview later in the week.

The only situation that would include commercial uses in residentially-zoned areas is for a “home occupation” business, which has its own restrictions.

“We are not opening our residential districts to commercial developments. That’s like the exact opposite of what we were discussing,” Goddard said. 

Goddard said what was being discussed was an attempt “to add some new tools to our toolbox” for planning purposes. As one of the potential allowances, he gave the example of adding a duplex on a corner lot, which would look like a single-family residence without changing the aesthetic of the neighborhood.

“Now we have a tool, whether the market determines people are going to start building (triplexes) or (quadruplexes,) that’s up to the market, because it’s an option now that we didn’t have previously,” Goddard said.

Those new tools included simplifying the existing code for accessory dwelling units. Minimum sizes were dictated by the international building code, but the maximums are currently impractical. Proposed code would allow for accessory dwelling units that are 45% of the total square footage of the primary residence. Only one accessory dwelling unit would be allowed per lot.

The code changes would also allow so-called “short plats” to encompass nine lots, as opposed to the current four lots. A short plat would bypass a process which requires a land use hearing, which can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, and add 40 to 60 days on the timeline for development.

“Theoretically, we’re trying to reduce the bureaucracy that is needed for a subdivision,” Goddard said.

The changes have been in discussion since 2021. Goddard said staff went through a “pretty comprehensive” process. He admits some of the issues voiced have come up before.

“Given it’s the second bite at the apple, I’m not particularly surprised that people wanted to come out and voice their concerns again,” Goddard said.

He acknowledged the city’s current issues with utility rates. He said a lack of housing stock is putting pressure on the housing demand.

“The fact that we’re not expanding our tax base by adding more utility users … it all factors into this housing affordability troubles that we’re having right now,” Goddard said.

A greater housing availability could help the issue, he said.

“Hopefully if we add some more units then we’ll have some more relief on the rental market and make things a little more affordable,” Goddard said.

Goddard said people who are trying to prevent homeless encampments should cheer on any changes to the city’s building code.

“By requiring accessory dwelling units to be built to the minimum building code, we are not going to have people living in shacks, or tents, or RVs, because those don’t meet the building code,” Goddard said.

The council ultimately voted to take another look at what was being proposed. 

“I’m not happy with small homes being in every backyard in Woodland,” councilor Carol Rounds said. “It brings property values down.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Monte Smith suggested bringing the ordinance to a workshop.

“I think we need more time to discuss this. I think we need more info and we need to make some changes to this. I’m not 100% thrilled with what it is either,” Smith said.

The council is set to have a workshop on the ordinance on Feb. 6.