Adjustment Application for Off Street Parking and Oversized ADU explained

An adjustment is synonymous with the term "variance". In Portland, Oregon, when you apply for an adjustment, you're applying for an exemption for the standard planning/zoning codes that apply to the type of permitted work you're seeking to do.

The zoning code is written to apply to MOST properties, but special circumstances commonly arise. In such instances, the homeowner/applicant must prove how they're meeting the intent of the zoning code, rather than meeting the development regulation standard that has been created in order to give meaning to the zoning code intent. 

Last I heard, roughly 1/3rd of ADUs in Portland have to seek adjustments for one aspect of their proposed ADU. Typically, the adjustmentes relate to parking requirements or setback requirements. An adjustment application takes ~10 weeks to process, and costs $2K.

Accordingly, I always advice that homeowners avoid adjustments if they can. But, sometimes, adjustments make total sense. It becomes a totally rational decision to apply for an adjustment. 

My new development project is a great example of an adjustment in process. As of the writing of this post, I applied a week ago, and am uncertain whether the adjustment will be granted.

However, I checked with City staff prior to submitting my application, to ascertain whether I'm likely to receive the adjustments that I requested.

The City does a great job of providing early feedback about this issue so that the applicant isn't typically put into the position of wasting considerable time and money. 

In my case, the property had a basement that was larger than a typically allowable ADU. However, it wouldn't really make sense to reduce the size of the basement ADU simply to meet the requisite (and arbitrary) 800 sq ft limit for ADUs in Portland. However, I was planning to reduce the size the basement unit to 799 sq ft and to create "common space" that would be shared by the upstairs and downstairs units, simply to avoid the adjustment. 

But, that was before I learned that my 22ft deep x 18 ft wide parking space, was not sufficiently sized to be deemed a viable parking space. This is because the parking space must start 10ft from the property line, so the 22ft of parking doensn't actually count. Only 12ft of that parking space counts. This is VERY annoying situation, becuase the driveway is clearly large enough to easily fit two vehicles. In fact, that's how it's used already. So, even though I am not proposing to change anything outside the house, I still have to apply for an adjustment. This is because the 'attached garage' is supposedly where the actual parking space is supposed to be. So, by converting the "garage" (which has probably not been used as a garage for decades) to habitable living space, I'm ostensibly "removing parking" (even though there's two large off street parking spaces remaining). 


So, yes, this situation is totally annoying.

Before I committed myself to applying for the parking adjustment, I went so far as to pay a civil engineer $400 to see whether there was any way I could reasonably park a vehicle sideways against the house, in order to respect the 10ft setback requirement. 

To prove that I could feasibly park sideways, parallel to the street, proved to be totally ridiculous. :) 

I gave up, and decided to go for the adjustment.

Once I collected my calm again about the irony of having to pay $2K in order to build an affordable housing unit in my neighborhood, I realized that the City is doing exactly what the code says that they should do in my case. 

Once I had reconciled this, I thought of another crafty way to take advantage of this forced project delay. While I had come up with an 800 sq ft ADU design that I really liked, I nonetheless asked a couple realtors how much more rental income would come with a 2BR/1BA ADU instead of the 1BR/1BA that I'd previously planned. 


They both said that it was a no brainer to do a 2BR ADU--it would be $400 more per month of rental income. The additional work for the 2nd bedroom may amount to $5K-10K. So, for $12K more in worst case scenario, I could make $400/month extra. That would pay itself in 30 months, or 2.5 years. 

So, with the looming 10 week wait ahead of me, I decided that I would also simultaneously apply for a 2nd adjustment- an oversized ADU adjustment. As a advocate of 'small housing' options, this is certainly not something that I would typically seek to do, but it made sense in this particular instance. After all, it's simply providing more housing (an extra bedroom) in the same building envelope. 

The regulatory rationale for this adjustment is that I was simply converting interior space. I wasn't building a brand new structure. Since the basement was greater than the 800 sq ft limit, it is generally deemed acceptable to request an oversized ADU permit. 

Here's the basic floorplan for the 912 sq ft, 2 BR ADU, that I included in my adjustment application for an oversized ADU permit.

I also needed to include a site plan and elevations.

Site Plan letter size.png

This also meant that I would be paying for TWO adjustments ($2K for each adjustment). Handing over my $4K adjustment application fee was a hard pill to swallow, given the uncertainty involved. 


Now, it's a waiting game. 

The City will notify the neighbors within 200 ft of the project site, and seek feedback. Then, the City will make their determination about whether to grant the adjustments. At that point, I can proceed with applying for an ADU permit. 

For others who are seeking oversized ADU conversions or off street parking setback adjustments, I'm linking here to the written explanation of the adjustment that I provided with my adjustment application. Personally, in order to dig up examples of other adjustments, I searched on Google for the public records like these ones. I used some of the language that I was able to find there to create my written explanation. 

If it is approved, then people can consider copying some of the justifications/rationale if they're applicable. If it is denied, then obviously, use my $2K adjustment gamble as a cautionary tale, and maybe don't copy the text I used. :) 

This process is somewhat akin to a conditional use permit process, a process that many jurisdictions require for any ADU. Thank goodness that Portland doesn't require this for all ADUs. It's an intimidating and confusing process ifor homeowners who have never built a house before. And, as you can see from my application, it requires the involvement of a professional designer/draftsment to prepare site plans, floor plans and elevation drawings. This means that a homeowner must anticipate paying a sigificant amount up front before they have any faith that they'll be issued a permit. Between the drawings, engineer, and adjustment permits, I've already put in $5,000 at this point.