Salem wants to make it easier to build apartments and other multifamily homes.

Changes aimed at accomplishing that were announced last year, and the Salem City Council is expected to vote on them later this month.

“The main goal is to help Salem meet its housing needs broadly,” said City Planner Eunice Kim. “It’s really aimed at removing barriers to the development of multifamily housing.”

Kim said the changes provide more flexibility in designs.

They include reducing or eliminating parking lot needs in certain parts of town, reclassifying triplexes and quadplexes so they’re no longer considered multifamily and creating a separate standard for smaller complexes of five to 12 units.

But one change commanded most of the discussion at two recent city council meetings: balconies.

As new developments have gone up, Kim said balconies facing homes has become a sore spot for nearby neighbors. There are currently no restrictions for balconies, she said.

“Overhanging balconies would erode the privacy of neighboring residences, especially balconies several stories high,” according to a letter to the council from the South Central Association of Neighbors.

Initially the city proposed that any apartment balcony had to be set back 50 feet from a neighboring house. Kim said the provision was a compromise between homeowners concerned about privacy and renters wanting open space.

Councilors voted to avoid any such restriction and instead require “sight obscuring railings” for balconies that would face homes.

At the Feb. 10 city council meeting, Councilor Jackie Leung said she’s a renter and she’s not going out onto her balcony to stare into her neighbor’s house.

 “I’m going out there because I want some fresh air. I want to look out. Sometimes I have my kids play on the balcony,” she said.

Councilor Jim Lewis, who represents west Salem, said he lives in a neighborhood with a lot of apartments.

“When I look out my window, I look at 150 balconies,” he said. “Why would you suggest that it’s okay in my neighborhood to have balconies but not in yours?”

Councilors also chose to eliminate minimum parking requirements for future projects downtown, at room and board facilities, and areas within a quarter mile of Cherriots’ core network.

The changes were spurred by a 2014 analysis that found Salem faced a 2,900-unit deficit of multifamily housing by 2035.

The proposed changes don’t impact where multifamily housing can be built. But Salem will have to update its zoning by 2022 because the Legislature voted to end single-family zoning last year.

The council will vote on the code changes at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 24. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.