PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – An area of downtown Gates that was destroyed in the 2020 wildfires is about to get new life. By fall, the area will have 16 tiny houses on it and will be a place displaced residents can call their new home. 

On Thursday, the Gates City Council approved a variance in the city code that will allow temporary tiny houses to be placed in the city to support residents of the Santiam Canyon who were displaced as a result of the Labor Day 2020 wildfires. 

Gates Mayor Ron Carmickle said the city had to adjust its code to allow homes that are smaller than 1,000 square feet. The tiny homes are built to RV code and the city also had to extend the amount of time RVs will be allowed to park in the area. The city expects these tiny homes will be occupied by wildfire survivors for the next three to five years. 

“I know it’s gonna add to our city considerably,” Carmickle said. “That’s two acres in our downtown area that was wiped out. So, that puts two acres of rebuilt grounds back in a downtown area.” 

Smoke fills the area around the Oak Park Motel Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, in Gates, Ore. The motel, owned by Ron and Belinda Evans, was one of several businesses destroyed by the Beachie Creek Fire. (Mark Ylen/Albany Democrat-Herald via AP)

The homes will be located on a plot of land where the Oak Park Motel and RV Park stood in Gates before the fire destroyed it. The area is more than two acres and is situated off East Central Street between Horeb Street and Oak Street. 

The homes will be 420 square feet. They’ll have a loft bedroom, a small patio and each one will come with a 10 by 10-foot storage unit. 

Wildfire survivors who live in the units will have the ability to work with service organizations that can assist them in finding more permanent housing to either rent or own.  

Carmickle said he’s already heard from someone who’s interested in moving into a home once it’s in place. He said that person lost his home in Gates and didn’t have insurance. He’s been trying to save money to rebuild. 

After months of living in housing provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Carmickle said he can relate to what a lot of his residents are going through. He lost two homes on his property and did not have homeowners insurance. He said he’s about to move into his new home but knows other people haven’t reached that stage yet. 

Marion County is currently in the process of finalizing construction documents for the planned development. The county said the variance approved Thursday allows it to acquire building permits and a water pollution control facility permit from the Department of Environmental Quality for the development’s new septic system. The county said both these things must be acquired before construction begins. 

The mayor says construction will begin in spring 2022 and should be completed by fall, if not sooner. 

The FEMA temporary housing that’s currently in place for wildfire survivors expires in March. Carmickle said this housing will be available to those residents if they still need it by the time it’s completed. The mayor said this housing is only available for people displaced by the wildfires. 

Carmickle said he’s extremely grateful for the support his city has received from Marion County. He said the money Gates has received from the county has been instrumental in the progress it’s made so far. 

“I’m just excited to see everything moving forward. You know, the town starting to come back and people rebuilding, hopefully, we get back on the map again,” he said. 

Carmickle said the city has also received a grant to help restore its downtown area. That’s the next project he’s looking forward to.