Beyond single-family: the housing market in Camas is diversifying

When the city of Camas completed its housing action plan in early 2021, some things were abundantly clear: the city’s housing inventory—dominated by large, expensive single-family homes—was quickly outpacing many potential Camasonians, including lowland dwellers. middle-income families, seniors on fixed incomes and young adults starting their careers.

The town plan showed that the majority of homes built in Camas over the past decade were larger single-family homes well beyond the price range of many first-time home buyers or anyone earning less. 50% of Camas’ median income of $101,000.

“Low-income households are strongly affected by the lack of affordability (in Camas),” noted the authors of the plan. “Of those with incomes below 30% of the region’s median income, four in five struggle to find suitable housing, including 90% of homeowners.”

In 2019, only 5% of the city’s housing was considered multifamily, and Camas had only four homes under 800 square feet and about 15 secondary suites (ADUs) located on single-family properties – all types of housing that could provide some relief for people who didn’t want – or couldn’t afford – the typical 3,000 square foot single-family home that had dominated the Camas housing market for the past decade.

And while the city council has yet to determine what urban planning tools included in the housing action plan, if any, they would like to use to ensure that Camas has more diverse and affordable housing over the next 10 years. years, there is good news on housing. the horizon: including two new housing proposals that would help diversify Camas’ housing supply.

The cottages

A proposal to build 22 small, detached, single-family homes on a 2.95-acre parcel east of downtown Camas, northeast of Third Avenue, is set to become Camas’ first cottage development.

On December 16, 2021, Hearings Examiner Joe Turner approved the Washougal River Oaks developer’s application to change the property from a multi-family area to a multi-family cottage overlay area.

“The Housing Action Plan, which we adopted this year, has strategies that identify the need to diversify (Camas’s) housing types,” Camas Senior Planne Lauren Hollenbeck told Turner during the hearing. of December 16. “Layering multi-family cottages really solves one of those disparities by providing an incentive to build smaller homes.”

Hollenbeck described the Washougal River Oaks project as “unique” and said the chalets would be the first of its kind in Camas.

“The development’s concept of having porches facing a common, open gathering area promotes the opportunity for an interactive neighborhood in the community,” Hollenbeck added.

Developer Bryan Desgrosellier, of Vancouver’s Desgrosellier Development, Inc., said he was inspired by other cottage projects in the area, including Salish Ponds Cottages, a 2001 development that included 10 clapboard cottages of cedar, ranging from 750 to 1,200 square feet, bordering a pond on a 3-acre landscaped lot across the Columbia River from Camas in Fairview, Oregon. In a 2009 Oregonian article, Ross Chapin, the architect behind the Salish Ponds development, said he had seen a “change in attitude” with more homebuyers “realizing what is enough and wanting to live in homes with a smaller footprint that would save energy. and reduce homeowner expenses.

Desgrosellier said he was charmed by the idea of ​​building something similar to Camas.

“I’ve always been intrigued by chalets, Desgrosellier said. “It can provide that diversity (that the city is looking for) and meet an underserved market of people who don’t want to live in a condo or apartment.”

The site was difficult, Desgrosellier added, due to its steep slope at the north end of the property that made much of the site virtually unbuildable. Instead, the developer plans to preserve the mature wooded area at the north end of the site and consolidate the 22 country houses at the north end.

Desgrosellier wanted the development to have a community spirit.

“It’s quite a tight site, but we’ve done our best to have a central staging area,” he said. “All the front porches face each other and there will be a small central structure where people can gather and do yoga or a barbecue. All the chalets on the south end will face this. And we integrated the gully with natural stone and a bridge over it.

The cottages will include seven two-bedroom, two-bathroom homes that have rear-facing attached garages and driveways and a mix of one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 750-square-foot and two-bedroom homes. bedrooms, two bathrooms, 800 square foot homes. Desgrosellier said he expects chalets to cost around $329,000 for the smallest units — less than half of what Zillow lists as the value of a typical Camas home ($692,787) in February. 2022.

“I’ve always liked the idea of ​​infill developments that are unique and don’t have the traditional box house look. I never wanted to go (build) a ton of houses on vast acres, Desgrosellier said.

The developer said he had hoped to put the chalet project together before now, but has been stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We bought the land in 2019…and it took us a long time to put the whole plan in place…but it’s a great opportunity for us to build in Camas,” Desgrosellier said.

In February, Desgrosellier told the Post-Record he had “a bit of a way to go” before he could start construction, but hoped to get the project underway this summer.

Mixed development in downtown Camas

A proposed mixed-use development for 404 NE Sixth Ave. could add nearly 4,500 square feet of ground floor retail and three floors of housing with 56 apartments in downtown Camas.

Robert Maul, acting director of community development for the Town of Camas, presented the proposal to Camas City Council at a February 22 workshop and said developers were interested in the multi-family housing tax exemption code. from the city.

Passed by Camas City Council in 2014, the Multi-Family Housing Tax Exemption allows for 8-12 year tax abatements for private and multi-family developments and redevelopments in the city’s downtown area that offer a certain percentage affordable housing “to accommodate future population growth”. , provide housing close to jobs, shopping, entertainment and transit services and encourage affordable housing where appropriate.

The definition of “affordable housing” for the city’s multi-family tax abatement program means that housing costs, including monthly utilities other than telephone charges, are 30% or less of monthly household income for “moderate-income households” who earn 80-115% of the county’s median income ($87,900 in 2020). Figures are adjusted throughout the tax abatement period to account for increases or decreases in Clark County median income.

The city granted a 12-year abatement to another mixed-use development in downtown Camas in 2019. This development, the Clara Flats, also located on Northeast Sixth Avenue at Northeast Birch Street, offers retail at ground floor and 30 residential units, including six that are considered affordable.

The proposed mixed-use development at 404 NE Sixth Ave., would be 51 feet tall with four stories and on-site “tuck-under” parking. Although the city’s downtown commercial area has no height restriction, the council set a 45-foot height restriction when it passed its tax exemption code for multi-family dwellings in 2014.

In February, the project’s applicant, Hudson East Living, LLC, asked Camas City Council to consider amending its tax exemption chapter that includes height restrictions of 45 feet over three stories.

Maul said he believed council members imposed the restriction in 2014 to help new developments blend in aesthetically better with other historic uses in the town centre, but the town had no height restrictions in its downtown shopping code.

On Feb. 22, council members appeared willing to consider a tax exemption code change that would provide developers with multi-family housing in the city’s downtown and along other parts of Northeast Sixth Avenue and Northeast Third Avenue some flexibility. Council will hold a public hearing on the matter at a later date.

“I am happy to see this application and this project moving forward,” Camas Councilwoman Shannon Roberts said Feb. 22. I see no problem with that. »