Council Watch: Oregon City tourism and tiny homes

Oregon City council members discuss tiny homes for veterans and strategic tourism plan.

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At a time when cities are struggling to fund temporary housing for homeless residents, Oregon City has stumbled onto 30 free tiny homes.

The homes have a unique backstory: In a former life the residences served as trusses for a Pickathon stage. The trusses were designed by Portland State University architecture students to form modular homes once a stage is disassembled. When Pickathon wrapped up operations Aug. 6, organizers reached out to Clackamas County to see if they were interested.

But there was a catch.

The trusses needed to be delivered as soon as possible.

The county agreed to place the trusses on an empty lot. But officials failed to clear the decision with Oregon City and it turned out the move violated city planning rules.

“I do regret we did not abide by notification to the city and abide by your code,” said Richard Swift, Clackamas County director of Health, Housing and Human Services during the commission’s Wednesday meeting.

The commission approved an emergency ordinance exempting the project from planning requirements.

“This is something we don’t do lightly,” said Laura Terway, Oregon City Community Development Director. “The only reason why we’re proposing this resolution today — and we hope to never be talking about resolutions to exempt planning again — is because there are city goals to work with partners to identify housing opportunities.”

Swift said the site use is temporary. Volunteers will construct the 30 homes, consisting of 21 trusses each, and relocate them by Oct. 31. The homes will be occupied by veterans.

“What we’re trying to do is a proof of concept that you can do an intentionally organized community in response to houselessness,” Swift said, comparing the project to the tiny home community in Portland’s Kenton neighborhood. “We want to … prove to the entire county that this type of process can work.”

The homes will be set up near Southeast 115th Ave. and Southeast Jennifer St. in Clackamas. Swift said he expects veterans to live in the homes for a period of two years.

Strategic tourism
The council also held its first public meeting to discuss a new tourism plan. Oregon City partnered with Portland-based Coraggio Group in June to develop and implement a strategy.

The plan has three stages: Get Clear, Get Focused and Get Moving. (View the plan as presented here.)

Beau Bennett, Coraggio project manager, said the goal is to get plenty of feedback early on in the first phase. Wednesday’s public meeting was the first of four.

The process began with a survey to examine perceived opportunities and barriers Oregon City faces moving forward. Matt Landkamer, Coraggio project principal, said the survey, which closed Aug. 14, has a rare 56% citizen response rate.

“It’s a good thing to hear from the people who will be a part of the tourism industry,” Landkamer said.

Opportunities for enhanced tourism include the historic downtown and Willamette Falls.

“And it’s in Oregon, which is really popular in the moment,” he said.

Barriers include a lack of parking and lodging, and it’s difficult for Oregon City to compete with nearby Portland to draw tourists.

“We’re not going to solve anything in the strategic plan,” Landkamer said. “But the strategic plan will give us those priorities.”

One of the priorities involves implementing an “aloha spirit” in the hospitality industry. When tourists have a good experience, they tell their friends and family — and word of mouth is critical to boosting tourism.