Woodland council rejects housing code changes


Potential changes to Woodland’s development code for housing were shot down last week over concerns about how an increase to the density would impact the city.

During a Feb. 6 meeting, the Woodland City Council voted 4-1 to reject an ordinance that would have made a number of code changes. The changes would have allowed corner-lot duplexes, an increase in lot number for the short-plat process, an allowance for accessory dwelling units, allowances for triplexes and other higher-density housing types, and a minimum density standard to encourage the use of the changes.

The changes were a result of a grant the city received to look at ways to increase housing availability in order to address the housing emergency declared by Cowlitz County, according to a staff report from the city.

A few factors came into play on housing costs, Woodland Community Development Director Travis Goddard said. 

One was the size of houses and households. From 1950 to 2017, the average square footage of a home increased more than two-and-a-half times while the people per household decreased by a third, leading to the amount of square feet per person to more than triple, according to information Goddard presented.

Goddard said Woodland’s proximity to Clark County and its cities also affects housing costs. Based on U.S. Census data, Clark County’s median household income was close to $83,000, with Ridgefield topping the county’s cities with about a $108,000 average. Woodland’s median household income was slightly more than $74,000 based on that data.

“We are on the brink of extremely expensive and more affluent communities, so we’re starting to see some of that leakage into the city of Woodland,” Goddard said.

The city also isn’t building new housing units at the rate it did a few years ago. In 2016, there were 53 units built, but Goddard said the number has declined in subsequent years, down to only one in 2022.

“Part of the reason why costs and rent is increasing is because we just don’t have any residential growth,” Goddard said.

Goddard said the proposed changes weren’t a result of any compliance issues with state law in the current code. 

“You are under no obligation to do all of it or any of it,” Goddard told the council.

The council ultimately decided not to make any of the changes. They were initially set to make a decision on the changes in November, but the council voted to postpone the final vote until February so they could receive feedback from the public.

At the Feb. 6 meeting, Goddard addressed that feedback. Although an increase to housing would likely increase the use of roads and utilities, the additional tax base would help fund improvements to those systems, Goddard said.

“If there were more units in town, there would be more ratepayers, and you might not necessarily have to raise rates as much,” Goddard said.

He also addressed concerns focused on whether the changes would allow for commercial development in residential areas. That was not the case, except for a small number of businesses, which are currently operated out of the business owners’ homes.

Mayor Pro-tem Monte Smith took issue with the allowance for accessory dwelling units.

“I’m all for adding more housing so that my kids have a place to live, but somebody putting in an (accessory dwelling unit) behind their house just to rent it out to people is a struggle for me,” Smith said, later adding, “I think that there’s some good in here.”

Smith wasn’t keen on approving the whole package of changes, though.

Councilor Carol Rounds said the only change she may be in favor of approving is for corner duplexes.

Smith also questioned the increase of density through smaller homes that the changes were intended to promote.

“If people were buying lower square foot homes, they would build them,” Smith said.

Smith believes the ongoing development planning in the Woodland Bottoms, which is currently outside of city limits, is the best course of action for housing, though the city’s past efforts have proven challenging.

“We tried doing that and we got sued by the county,” Smith said.

Councilor DeeAnna Holland was the one vote to not deny the ordinance. Holland mentioned a friend who was priced out of the area after her family lived in the city for a long time.

“She’s a fifth-generation Woodlander and couldn’t afford a house here, so she moved to Longview,” Holland said.