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Albany City Hall 3 (copy) (copy) (copy)

Albany City Hall

We've been watching the dance between the Albany City Council and Mayor Sharon Konopa regarding a proposed city ordinance designed to bring the city into compliance with state law regarding accessory dwelling units.

If you've been following this issue, you know that accessory dwelling units also are called "in-law apartments" or "granny flats." They're basically second dwelling units built on a lot and typically are smaller than the primary house.

In 2017, the Oregon Legislature passed legislation requiring cities with populations of more than 2,500 people to allow accessory dwelling units in areas zoned for detached single-family homes. Albany currently allows these units up to 750 square feet but only in some areas of the city. To comply with state law, the city has to amend its development code.

So, city staff members have done just that — but Konopa consistently has vetoed the ordinance, citing worries that the maximum size proposed, 900 square feet, is too large. The mayor also has expressed concerns about impacts on parking and whether dwelling unit occupants should own the structures. (To be fair, Konopa's concerns are fully in keeping with her longstanding desire to protect Albany neighborhoods.)

In any event, the council has failed (most recently on Feb. 27) to override the mayor's veto. Such an override requires five votes from the six-vote council, and the council typically has fallen one vote short of doing that.

So the issue remains in limbo until the mayor and the council can craft a compromise, and surely there is some room to do that; despite Konopa's fears, it seems that these dwelling units are unlikely to immediately overrun Albany neighborhoods.

But the fact that five votes are required to override a mayoral veto, as laid out in the city charter, does seem to give a lot of power to the mayor. Looked at another way, it requires more than 83 percent of the council to agree to the override. If that were the rule in the U.S. Senate, you'd need 84 votes to override a presidential veto.

Here's the problem, though: If you revamp that requirement so that only four votes are required to override, then all the power flows to the council: Remember that the charter already requires four votes before any motion can move forward, so resetting the tally for an override at four votes neutralizes the mayor's veto power.

One way around this issue might be to rethink the number of positions on the Albany council, which has six councilors, two from each ward. As Albany grows (and it will, regardless of what happens with the accessory dwelling unit issue), it may be that six councilors and three wards is no longer the best fit for Albany. 

In fact, an organized review of the city charter, which hasn't been examined in any detail since 2010, appears to be long overdue. The review in 2010 focused on issues such as making the charter language gender-neutral, updating sections related to the city's Municipal Court to reflect current state law and local practice and to delete language that was unconstitutional, all of which is important work. But it left some fundamental issues untouched. 

As the debate over the accessory dwelling units demonstrates, Albany is facing substantial change in the next few years. Now would be a good time to take a hard look at the city charter to make sure that city government will be up to the challenges that change brings. (mm)

Correction

Tuesday's editorial about influenza misstated some of the instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the unfortunate event that you come down with the illness. If you catch influenza, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine. (mm)

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