Sunday, January 14, 2018

Cottage Code Amendments

"Cottage cluster" photo from WE CAN website

The stated mission of the AIA-Southwestern Oregon Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA) is to take positions on issues that affect the practice of architecture and the design and planning of the Eugene-Springfield community. CoLA promotes policies and positions that inform positive actions on or around issues it becomes involved with.

Along with other like-minded advocates, CoLA recently co-signed a letter drafted by The Walkable Eugene Citizens Advisory Network (WE CAN) asking Eugene City Council to take action on Cottage Code Amendments. The goal of these amendments is to make it easier and less expensive to build smaller housing types in Eugene—including making changes to the City’s zoning bylaws to fully comply with Oregon SB 1051, which addresses affordability criteria, density, accessory dwelling units, the review period for development applications, and the standards municipalities use when considering housing development.

Here’s the letter:

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

Eugene Mayor, City Council and City Manager City Manager’s Office
125 East 8th Avenue
Eugene, OR 97401

Re:  Cottage Code Amendments

Dear Mayor, City Councilors and City Manager:

We, the undersigned organizations, respectfully request that the Eugene City Council instruct the City Planning Department to prepare a package of zoning code amendments, for review and approval by the Eugene Planning Commission and City Council, with the following aims:
  • Remove restrictions on Secondary Dwelling Units that inhibit or complicate their legal development in residential zones in Eugene
  • Create “Cottage Clusters” as a by-right housing type in Eugene residential zones
Housing Need in Eugene
Eugene is facing a multi-faceted housing crisis. Part of the problem is supply--there simply are not enough homes available for our growing population. Related to the short supply is a second problem: affordability. Some residents are homeless, while many more are having to spend much more than they can reasonably afford simply to keep a roof over their heads. A third aspect of our housing problem is limited choices. A growing number of local households consist of one to two people, and many of these would prefer “Missing Middle” housing options that are currently very uncommon in Eugene. A final aspect of the housing crisis is limited resources--especially land, but also public infrastructure, clean air and water, and time. An over-reliance on single-family homes exacerbates the challenge of living within our economic, environmental and equity limits.

In a sincere attempt to prevent incompatible infill development, over the past decade Eugene has adopted zoning code provisions that also inhibit needed construction of infill development that could comfortably blend into existing neighborhoods.

The issue of housing is complex, and a few code revisions will not solve the whole problem. But the first step towards encouraging local builders and homeowners to offer more and better housing choices is to make it legal for them to do so.

The Second Pillar of Envision Eugene is to “Provide Housing Affordable to All Income Levels.”  These recommended code revisions would help improve housing affordability within the Urban Growth Boundary in a manner that also supports the other pillars--namely, they would respect the character of existing neighborhoods, take advantage of existing infrastructure, support low-carbon travel options, and promote smaller, more environmentally sensitive construction.

Secondary Dwelling Units
Secondary Dwelling Units (SDUs, also known as Accessory Dwelling Units, backyard cottages, granny flats, or garage apartments) are single housing units that share the lot with a primary detached single-family home. They can take the form of a smaller, independent structure, or they can be attached to or incorporated within an existing structure (e.g. the basement or second-story of the main home, the second story of a detached garage).

SDU’s can provide additional housing that is compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods, and benefits both homeowners and renters. Since they are small and are built on already owned land, their cost is generally lower than for other new construction. They provide housing for renters, and income for homeowners. These are some of the reasons that many cities, including Springfield, are working to reduce obstacles to building SDU’s.

SDU’s currently face a variety of restrictions under Eugene’s zoning code. For instance:
  • SDU’s are allowed only on property zoned R-1
  • They are prohibited on lots smaller than 6,100 square feet
  • They are subject to more restrictive height and design standards than other structures in R-1
  • They require the owner to sign a deed restriction guaranteeing that the owner will continue to reside on the property
These restrictions add time, cost and complexity to the construction of an SDU, and help explain why the number of applications to build SDU’s have decreased since new code restrictions on them were put in place.

In the most recent legislative session, SB 1051 included language stating: “A city with a population greater than 2,500 or a county with a population greater than 15,000 shall allow in areas zoned for detached single-family dwellings the development of at least one accessory dwelling unit for each detached single-family dwelling, subject to reasonable local regulations relating to siting and design.”

Eugene is not currently in compliance with this new directive from the state. Reviewing our zoning code to remove restrictions that are not “reasonable design and siting standards” will both bring us into compliance with the state law, and provide more Eugene homeowners with the ability to provide housing for their family and neighbors.

A cottage cluster ("pocket neighborhood") development in Washington state designed by Ross Chapin Architects.

Cottage Clusters
Just as SDU’s provide low-impact housing for renters, Cottage Clusters can offer similar opportunities for potential homeowners.

A Cottage Cluster is a group of small, detached homes clustered around a central outdoor common space. Typically, some of the homes face the common space, while others might face the street. The cottages in the cluster are small—typically less than 1000 square feet. Each cottage frequently has its own small yard and covered porch, and they share a central outdoor common space. Cottages are ideal for individuals and couples who don't want a big house, but would still enjoy some private outdoor space, a small garden or a patio. They can make ideal “starter homes,” good options for busy working families who are able to live with less space and are short of time for maintaining a large home, or an option for retired adults to downsize in community.

Cottage Clusters can be developed under our current zoning code. Two examples, with differing purposes and scale, are the Amazon Cottages and Emerald Village. But both these developments faced expensive and time-consuming land use processes as they struggled to “fit” into existing code. Emerald Village applied as a multi-family dwelling, and then had to seek numerous exemptions from provisions that were intended for apartment or condo buildings.   Amazon Cottages applied as a “Cluster Subdivision” process--but this too involved such costly and time-consuming exceptions and modifications that the developer indicated he would never take on a similar project again.

The City could simplify the creation of Cottage Clusters, and avoid lengthy processes that add time and cost to their construction, through a few simple changes in the zoning code:
  • Include “Cottage Cluster” in the definition of housing types
  • Explicitly identify Cottage Clusters as a permitted type of housing in residential zones (just as single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and multi-family dwellings are)
  • Include defining language, such as open space and form requirements.
These simple changes would help increase the supply and reduce the cost of small cottages, so people can invest in a home and be invested in their neighborhood.

We need more housing now. These two forms of housing provide compatible options that can be targeted at multiple income levels and meet many needs—from subsidized, affordable housing to “starter homes” or “downsizing” units.

Therefore, we respectfully ask that Council instruct City Staff to determine what code adjustments will be needed to remove roadblocks to these two housing types in Eugene’s code, and move forward with implementing these adjustments.

1000 Friends of Oregon Eugene
AARP Oregon
• American Institute of Architects Southwest Oregon, Committee on Local Affairs
Democratic Party of Lane County
Home Builders Association of Lane County 
• Board of Directors of the Rental Owners Association of Lane County
SquareOne Villages
Sponsors, Inc.
Tiny House/Tiny Villages Eugene
Walkable Eugene Citizen’s Advisory Network  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

New This Year: CCPR Study Group!

As the chair of the CSI-Willamette Valley Certification Committee, I receive regular notifications about developments from the Construction Specifications Institute that are helpful to me and my fellow certification class instructors. The latest from the Institute is the great news that CSI’s Great Lakes Region is hosting a virtual study group for those interested in pursuing Certified Construction Product Representation (CCPR) certification.

A Certified Construction Product Representative is a valued resource called upon by the design team again and again. Becoming a CCPR means:
  • Making sales calls, presentations, construction meetings, and product shows more effective
  • Knowing the key parts of product binders and other marketing collateral
  • Understanding roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the project, and how and when to communicate with them
  • Understanding all phases of the construction documentation, and the product representative’s role in each phase
  • Speaking the same language as the design and contractor teams

Candidates who succeed in passing the CCPR exam can use the letters "CCPR" after their name, on their business cards, and on their resumes. Being a CCPR means being a member of a very exclusive club as there presently are only 168 individuals among CSI’s active membership of 8,000 who have achieved this level of certified expertise.

The Willamette Valley Chapter offers in-person Construction Contract Document and Construction Contract Administration classes but not for Construction Product Representation. The availability of an online course produced by the Great Lakes Region for CCPR candidates fills this conspicuous void. A virtual CCPR course/study group also addresses the reality most construction product representatives deal with, which is that their busy travel schedules often preclude the possibility of consistent attendance in classroom programs.

After hearing about the online CCPR study group, I visited the Institute’s member-only online discussion forum CSI-Connect to see if anyone had posted additional relevant information. Sure enough, Thad Goodman, FCSI, CCPR of the Great Lakes Region did post details about the study group, and in particular information regarding an introductory, informational webinar. Here are the details:

CCPR Study Group Informational Webinar:   Friday, February 9, 2018 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM EST

Join the meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.

Or, dial in using your phone:
United States: +1 (646) 749-3131 Access Code: 302-129-365

Pre-registration not required; just log in or call at the scheduled time.

The regular classes will begin Friday, February 16 and will run seven consecutive weeks through Friday, March 30. The organizers will determine the times for each of the sessions following the February 9 informational webinar.

Big thanks to Thad and the Great Lakes Region for setting up the CCPR study group and offering the online courses for the benefit of certification candidates across the country!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

And Now for Something Completely Different

The heyday of Monty Python’s surrealist comedy coincided with my teen years, without a doubt a formative time for me but likewise for 1970s arts and culture. The free-flowing absurdity of the Pythons’ Flying Circus TV show spared no one from its madness, least of all those who took themselves seriously. The members of the troupe—Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin—overturned the conventions of traditional sketch comedy during each 30-minute episode by offering an irreverent and always completely different take on wildly disparate topics. My high school friends and I were such fans we could freely recite our favorite skits verbatim.

Nudge, nudge, know what I mean? Say no more … Know what I mean?

It’s not pining. It’s passed on. This parrot is no more . . . THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!

Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

The profession of architecture, with its air of self-importance and the arrogance of many of its most notable practitioners, proved a worthy target for Monty Python’s silly brand of satire. First seen in Episode 17 of the TV show, “The Architects Sketch” is classic Python; watch the video above. Wikipedia describes the sketch as follows:

The sketch proper begins with Mr. Tid (Chapman) in an office with two City gents (Palin and Jones). On a table near the window stand two architectural models of tower blocks. Mr. Tid informs the City gents that he has invited the architects responsible to explain the advantages of their respective designs.

First to arrive is Mr. Wiggin (Cleese), who describes his architectural design and modern construction, and then explains his killing technique starting with a conveyor belt and 'rotating knives'. It turns out that Mr. Wiggin mainly designs slaughterhouses and has misunderstood the owners' attitude to their tenants. When Mr. Wiggin fails to persuade them to accept his 'real beaut' of a design, he launches into an impassioned tirade against 'you non-creative garbage' and blackballing Freemasons. When they still reject his design, however, he begs the increasingly uncomfortable City gents to accept him into the Freemasons.

Once Wiggin has been persuaded to leave, the second architect, Mr. Leavey (Idle), arrives. As Mr. Leavey describes the strong construction and safety features of his design, his model collapses and catches fire in the manner of the (then) recent Ronan Point disaster, accompanied by a large on-screen caption reading 'SATIRE'. The City gents assure Mr. Leavey that provided the tenants are 'of light build and relatively sedentary' there should be no need to make expensive changes to the design. After his design is accepted, the model explodes. The City gents exchange bizarre Masonic handshakes with Leavey. Wiggin reappears at the doorway, breaking the fourth wall to tell the audience 'It opens doors, I'm telling you.'

Apart from the now unfortunate correspondence between Mr. Leavey’s fire-prone design with last year’s Grenfell Tower conflagration, the incisive humor of The Architects Sketch is undeniable.

At the risk of grossly over-generalizing, most architects are nothing if not insecure. We all crave approbation from our clients (and especially from our peers). Many architects longingly seek acceptance and admittance within the rarefied circles of a cultural and political elite (represented in the skit by the Freemasons). The bottom line is sometimes who you know is more important than what you bring to the table. Such is the lot of architects in life.

Additionally, The Architects Sketch mocks our profession’s proclivity toward insufferable, artistic posturing. Mr. Wiggin’s plaintive rant falls on the deaf ears of the clients, who clearly understand their own needs more than he cares to. A takeaway:  The architect’s duty first and foremost resides in the client’s functional brief and not to the architect’s personal agenda, whatever that might be. The irony contained within the sketch is that the clients choose to look past the conspicuous failings of Mr. Leavey’s design, their affiliation as Freemasons trumping all.

Some architects might say Monty Python’s skewering of architects was misguided, the “sort of blinkered, philistine pig ignorance [they've] come to expect from . . . non-creative garbage,” to which I say they meant it all in good fun, even if the grain of truth is there. It’s a good thing if The Architects Sketch prompts a twinge of discomfort and recognition upon viewing. Its timelessness is a testament to both the Pythons’ genius and the frailties of our profession.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Prophecies

Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus)

Rather than writing a post along the lines of a unimaginative end-of-year Internet meme (such as lazily featuring only the first sentence of the first SW Oregon Architect blog post I published each month during the preceding year), I will instead mark the end of 2017 by offering my own take on the equally hackneyed institution of would-be soothsayers. The following are my prognostications, a la Nostradamus, about the future of architecture as 2018 approaches. I’ll even do as the cryptic Frenchman did: Rather than using plain, modern-day English, I offer my predictions in the form of abstruse quatrains.(1) I’ll first pose a question, followed by my prophecy in response:

Artificial Intelligence
True artificial intelligence is adaptive, self-learning, and intuitive. A.I. research has recently taken great strides, so much so that A.I. is making inroads into our everyday lives, including architecture, and its impact grows with each passing year.

The question: Will AI begin to take jobs away from architects in 2018?

The prophecy:
After the eclipse of the Sun will then be

The monster divine omen will be seen in plain daylight
The new land will be at the height of its power
So that on the left hand there will be great affliction  

By ChristinaC. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Augmented Reality
Much like the exponential advancement of artificial intelligence, improvements in computer technology now make it possible to provide immersive experiences within real-world environments whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input. Augmented reality will inevitably change the way architects make design decisions by overlaying digital content onto real-world imagery. This technology will only improve and become more affordable in 2018 and beyond.  

The question: Is augmented reality actually a slippery step along a path toward completely virtual experiences and the abandonment of society’s preference for real places? Will virtual reality someday render brick and mortar buildings obsolete? 

The prophecy:
You will see, sooner and later, great changes made
Over the walls to throw ashes, lime chalk, and dust
Not far from the age of the great millennium
Pointed steel driven all the way up to the hilt 

Designing for Resilience
According to the Resilient Design Institute, resilience is the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and to maintain or regain functionality and vitality in the face of stress or disturbance. It is the capacity to bounce back after a disturbance or interruption. At various levels—individuals, households, communities, and regions—through resilience we can maintain livable conditions in the event of natural disasters, loss of power, or other interruptions in normally available services. 

Relative to climate change, resilience involves adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet: more intense storms, greater precipitation, coastal and valley flooding, longer and more severe droughts in some areas, wildfires, melting permafrost, warmer temperatures, and power outages. 

Resilient design is the intentional design of buildings, landscapes, communities, and regions in response to these vulnerabilities. 

The question:  Will the increased application of resilient design principles keep architecture relevant in an increasingly unpredictable and dangerous world? 

The prophecy
When 2018 is seven months over
For forty years it will be seen every day
War captive halfway inside its enclosure
Drinking by force the waters poisoned by sulfur

Architects and Politics 
The coarseness and divisiveness of today’s political climate has taken its toll on many of us. We’re stressed out when we think about the future direction of the country. Anxiety and uncertainty are at an all-time high. The election and presidency of the mendacious and unpredictable Twitterer-In-Chief has fed fears. An increasing number of architects wonder whether they should step into the political ring and voice their support for evidence-based (read: “science-based”) policymaking related to climate-change regulations and resilient design efforts, and opposition to budget cuts intended to gut environmental protections. 

The question:  Will architects serve as an instrument of positive change in the new year by constructively and/or disruptively engaging ethical and political concerns? 

The prophecy
Garden of the world near the new city 
Will cause its realm to hold in peace and union 
It will be seized and plunged into the Vat 
Late and soon comes the awaited help 

Economic Contraction 
The ongoing economic expansion and its concomitant rise in the gross domestic product, productivity, and prosperity has seemingly defied gravity since 2009. The buoyant economy has lifted most all boats, including the construction market and, in turn, the architectural profession. 

The question:  For how much longer will the good times roll? Are we headed toward a crash in 2018? 

The prophecy: 
No more than seven months will he hold the office of prelate 
Extreme horrors and vengeances 
War captive halfway inside its enclosure 
Nimes, Toulouse, perish in water, the market to collapse  

The Next Big Thing 
Too many architects have shied away from confronting the big problems of a world beset with enormous challenges. It’s far too easy to focus instead upon the more immediate exigencies of professional practice today, such as addressing arcane code issues or meeting staff payroll; however, what the world needs are visionaries, brave people willing to lead by example toward real, effective changes. 

The question:  Who will be the next Frank Lloyd Wright, the next great visionary architect? 

The prophecy
He who will have the government of the great cape 
Will cause the towers around the New City to shake 
Sword and lance before heaven is observed as serene 
King to be outside, he will keep far from the enemy 

*    *    *    *    *    *

So there you go: Visions as clear as the wellspring of the McKenzie River and as prescient as if uttered by the Oracle of Delphi. That said, I make no claims of true clairvoyance but if it turns out my quatrains accurately foreshadowed actual events, just remember you read it here first. 

Happy New Year!

(1)  I can’t take full credit for these quatrains: I relied upon an automated, online Nostradamus prophecy generator to mimic the seer’s famously vague predictions of future events.