Fairview live/works face code violations

How to code live/work units, a new building type in the modern mixed-use era, is often tricky. Nowhere have fire and safety codes for live/work units created as much controversy as in Fairview Village in Fairview, Oregon. Businesses on Village Street have expanded to a greater degree than was originally anticipated, and now some of them may have to curtail their operations or make costly building alterations to meet safety standards. Some will likely move.

“This is not where we wanted to be at this time,” says developer Garth Everhart. “The demand for commercial space was stronger than we thought, and we did not design the units with enough flexibility.” He adds, “It’s a bad thing in the near term, but indicative of the businesses growing and needing more space.”

The 22 rowhouses on Village Street, built and occupied for three years, are located between Fairview’s City Hall and a public library. The street runs through the heart of the traditional neighborhood development near Portland. Yet the street is not visible from any busy commercial thoroughfare, and the developers were initially unsure how much demand there would be for business uses. Rather than overshoot the demand, developers took a conservative approach: most of the units included small first-floor offices ranging from 175 to 500 square feet. The expected market was professionals with small clienteles.

Although professionals occupied some of the units, Village Street turned into more of a retail street, with businesses such as a cafe, ice cream parlor, sandwich shop, travel agency, beauty salon, and gift shops. Many businesses have expanded into the entire first floor and some throughout the second floor as well. Even the professional offices have expanded.

The code problems were not discovered until recently, when the fire marshal with jurisdiction over Fairview, Gus Leon, began looking into the issue. Leon sent letters on June 25 to 13 business owners, giving them 90 days to close, obtain a home occupancy permit, or apply for a building permit to meet commercial codes. The biggest issue, Leon says, is firewalls, followed by floor-loading capacity.

The City of Fairview wants to see Village Street remain a main street, including small retail operations and even food service businesses. The zoning provides for a mixture of uses, allowing a wide variety of businesses to operate. Uses that would be inappropriate in the rowhouses would be such things as a small hotel or a large restaurant, says community development director John Andersen. “We certainly want to have the businesses continue to operate,” he says. “That’s why we have gone to the expense of hiring an architect and a fact-finder.”

The architect will establish whether the units were built with a two-hour firewall and commercial load-bearing capacity, which Everhart believes is the case. Another significant issue is American Disabilities Act requirements, which come into play because some of the units have steps and no at-grade bathroom.

Andersen believes that some business will be found to be within code, and others will have to make alterations or curtail their operations. “Some of the businesses have already announced that they will not continue,” Andersen says.

The developers, Holt & Everhart, have learned their lesson. Four more live/work units are being built in Fairview Village, and these will have first floors designed to be fully commercial and built explicitly to commercial standards, with 1,200 square feet of space and complete separation from the residential portion. Everhart advises developers who are building live/work units to take a similar approach. u