- Associated Press - Thursday, April 17, 2014

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Tiny houses.

Everyone loves them. Cute, inexpensive, and eco-friendly, tiny houses are popping up all over the Northwest.

Portland, which just relaxed its rules to allow them, is seeing a boom, and even boasts a tiny house hotel.

But don’t look for them in Salem.

The Capital City is alone in the state in banning tiny houses, more formally known as “accessory dwelling units.”

In fact, a recent study of large and mid-size cities in the Northwest found that only Salem and Idaho Falls have outright bans on accessory dwelling units.

“There’s just a lack of policy. They simply do not allow accessory dwelling units,” said Jordan Palmeri, green building coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Quality. “Salem is the only one that doesn’t offer some option to build an ADU.”

Nothing would prevent a Salem property owner from building one small house on a single-family lot, of course. But mother-in-law suites, backyard cottages, garage or attic units, granny flats or converted basements aren’t allowed.

“We get a lot of people that want to do it. We get questions all the time,” said Lisa Anderson-Ogilvie, Salem’s acting urban planning administrator. “We always have to say it’s not a permitted use, you can’t do that.”

The rule goes back to the 1920s, when zoning was first put in place in Salem, Anderson-Ogilvie said.

“It was never put in the code and we just continued on that way,” she said.

Older neighborhoods that predate zoning may have a few ADUs, and those are legal, she said. There likely also are a fair number of illegal ADUs in the city.

The idea is being talked about locally, said Mike Erdmann, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Marion and Polk Counties.

A group studying housing needs and possible zone changes in Salem is discussing the possibility, he said.

“There seemed to be popular support,” Erdmann said. “Whether an ADU ordinance will stem from that, I don’t know.”

A March 2013 Sightline study ranked cities in the Northwest for their ADU friendliness.

Vancouver, B.C. came in first, followed by Portland.

Portland reduced its permit fees for ADUs in 2010. Last year, the city received nearly 200 permit applications, up from an average of 30 per year before the change.

Salem ranked dead last.

DEQ researchers say tiny houses are one of the most positive things people can do to reduce their environmental impact.

They take up less land, require fewer building materials, and cost less to heat and cool.

“ADUs are a good idea environmentally,” Palmeri said. “And they have all these other social and economic benefits.”

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Information from: Statesman Journal, https://www.statesmanjournal.com

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