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Thoughtfully built infill housing benefits all.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Bob Wright

Over the past several months, The Register-Guard has played host to many and varied perspectives regarding the growing trend toward infill-type housing - accessory dwelling units and secondary dwelling units. Having worked in architecture and community development for many years, I have seen different approaches to affordable housing and property development - some effective, some less so.

Although other writers and commentary have pointed out the problems that can arise from infill housing development, I would like to add, especially after having also built an accessible ADU in our back yard last summer, to those who have also pointed out the many benefits.

Thoughtfully executed infill development can provide economic, environmental and livability benefits to the community and the property owner. With limited buildable land, public revenue and infrastructure, ADU-type housing helps provide affordable, sustainable housing.

There is also a need for more adaptive, supportive housing, and it will be increasingly necessary to consider alternatives and options designed for varied living conditions and situations. Environmentally responsible infill ADU-type housing helps to mitigate carbon footprints as well as urban and infrastructure sprawl, while maximizing property efficiency and affordability.

Infill ADU and SDU housing also provides a valuable option for many private property owners and home owners. With an economy of small size and scale, an absence of property acquisition costs, and with public infrastructure, site work and landscaping largely already in place, increased affordability can make home ownership more accessible to more people while also providing rental income, financing and equity investment opportunities.

Adaptive ADUs that incorporate universal design can also provide opportunities for aging in place and various options for shared or independent care and services. An ADU infill home may be especially beneficial to homeowners caring for aging parents (the traditional "granny flat") or for those who want to remain at home and in a familiar community, but with a smaller, more manageable, adaptive, affordable and possibly rentable home on site. ADU housing can offer situation-specific advantages difficult to find elsewhere.

While the advantages of ADU and SDU-type infill housing are apparent, the intent and the concept may too often be undone by consequences. Livability concepts are tested when an ill-conceived, poorly designed and built secondary dwelling springs up next door. Livability concerns may then include open space, privacy, noise, traffic, congestion, property values, neighborhood character, etc., and often can be a matter of perspective, as earlier commentaries have indicated.

Writers have also previously suggested several areas in which remedies or improvements are possible, including better design and execution, compatibility requirements and criteria, and more restrictive permitting and enforcement - especially regarding ownership, occupancy and use. Solutions have predictably also varied, as Portland and other cities are in some ways less restrictive than Eugene, but have seemingly fewer problems.

Portland has allowed ADUs similar to those in Eugene to be developed without requiring the property owner to live on-site, as is required in Eugene. To encourage environmentally sound infill ADU-type development, Portland and other cities have additionally waived systems development charges, and ADUs have been in some areas eligible for additional energy rebates and incentives.

Eugene's housing market, however, differs from Portland's in important ways - most notably the apparent continued need for student rentals in older, established, often historically significant single-family residential neighborhoods, where the incidence of "unintended use" rental infill is especially high.

Nonetheless, infill development that is responsive and considerate of its site and environment, and doesn't detract from surrounding property or the neighborhood, is largely required, provided for and encouraged in current code.

Infill development can be an important part of a larger solution in adapting to changing housing conditions, needs, limitations and realities. There is a need and a place for responsible nodal type development, but any solution cannot discount readily apparent issues or ignore unintended consequences.

The current issues regarding disparate community and individual livability, as well as poor planning, design, execution, ownership and management are all important and problematic but resolvable, and as part of a comprehensive community housing plan will need responsible, inclusive and comprehensive solutions.

Bob Wright of Eugene has worked for 20 years in architecture and development. He has developed more than 700 units of housing, including an 800-square-foot infill accessory dwelling unit in the College Hill area.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 2, 2014
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