In a rare move, the Cottage Grove Planning Commission last Wednesday (Nov. 10) voted against a city staff recommendation that the commission recommend a zone change request to city council.
An application from landowner Don Nordin to rezone land at 1142 Chestnut Ave. from R1 to RC (Residential Commercial) prompted public discussion at the planning commission meeting and concerned some in the neighborhood.
It was ultimately determined through the discussion that Nordin’s housing plans could move forward without the zone change.
“I think we would rather ensure it comes back so we have community input, especially since it doesn’t preclude him from doing what he says he wants to do,” said Commissioner Darby Valley regarding the decision to vote against the recommendation.
Valley also referenced a zone change of the old Harrison Elementary School from R1 to R2 passing through the commission with little resistance in 2019. In that case, the land ended up not being used in the way the commission expected it to, he said.
Nordin laid out a unique plan for his land for the commission.
“In response to a community need for more affordable housing and at the direction of HB 2001 from our legislature to address the need for ‘middle housing’, I am requesting a change from the R1 zoning on my property … to RC residential commercial to allow for a phased construction of a duplex and cottage cluster with an associated opportunity space, utility shed, and great room,” stated Nordin in his request to the commission.
The property abuts another property across L Street that is already zoned RC and is across Chestnut Avenue from another property that is zoned R2. City staff determined that the rezoning of Nordin’s land to RC would be consistent with other zoning in the neighborhood.
Nordin’s plan involves making residential space for “perhaps 12 or 14 individuals” rather than housing just the land’s single occupant.
Using a co-housing model, Nordin proposes encouraging an ownership stake in the property with holders given the ability to sell that stake.
The plan also proposes construction with a net-zero energy approach, construction of an open shared space with a courtyard and garden, and collectively-owned vehicles for the residents.
“It is my hope that this project could provide a model or pilot for similar living units with consideration of the demands for energy, materials and greenhouse emissions that I feel is imperative to respond to the societal need for affordable housing without imperiling the natural environment for the future generations … on our planet,” stated Nordin’s submission.
Nordin further explained in public comment that he wanted the RC designation to allow him “flexibility”. An entrepreneur himself, Nordin proposed that such zoning would allow for space on the land for himself or people to run small business ventures.
“I would want to maintain that possibility of keeping commercial activity there, not to draw people from outside of the area to that spot, but for small-scale manufacturing, warehousing, or an incubator space or developing,” he said.
Nordin also said he was disappointed with nearby construction projects on Sunrise Ridge, which seem to use up a lot of energy but yield little in the way of housing.
“I’m trying to provide a model of another kind of development that would be a little more intense with human habitation and less energy consumption,” he said.
As an owner of the property for 40 years, he felt it had been underutilized in the past several decades.
During public and commission questions and comments, many nearby residents expressed their concern over the zone change, though many were warm to the idea of Nordin’s housing ideas.
Resident Travis Olsen called the application for RC “odd and unnecessary”.
Comments critical of Nordin’s application focused on concerns about increased traffic, degradation of historical buildings and even the worry that a future owner of the land would overly commercialize the land outside of Nordin’s proposed vision.
RAIN Venture Catalyst Aqsa Khan spoke in favor of Nordin’s commercial ideas, saying they could bring an economic benefit to the community.
Near the end of the meeting, resident Tammie Stark said her mind was changed and she was no longer worried as much about the zone change as about how the process would be done.
“I think that having small cottages on that property is a great idea,” she said. “I think supporting small business owners that could support themselves with small business … is a great idea. I do share the concern about it being sold to a developer and it being completely leveled and paved and a bunch of apartments going in.”
Nordin responded to the community comments and said he was willing to accept an R2 zone change if the commission and community felt the commercial aspect was detrimental to or unnecessary for the neighborhood.
To fully realize his proposed without the zone change to RC, Nordin will have to make his case in a community meeting process and receive a conditional use permit.