CHELAN – Planning commissioners gathered to discuss updates on affordable housing, small lot and infill land use tools, and review the docket with revised comprehensive plan amendments, Wednesday, Feb. 21 at City Hall.
In an update from the last city council workshop meeting and January’s affordable housing town hall meeting, Planning Director Craig Gildroy led the board of planning commissioners through topics covered at each meeting and any progress since. The town hall meeting was “a really good meeting,” he explained, “we heard a lot from local people and what the needs are … I think a lot of what we heard was toward public-profit relationships, and that’s what the mayor is really doing. I call it the ‘Mayor’s Initiative’. He’s really looking at property owners that want to donate land but could include developers who want to donate land (also), to build at least 20 units on the property.” One developer has already stepped forward with the offer to donate land, which is The Lookout development. The offer would include three acres of land and architectural drawings for their cottage style housing, with the units being built by volunteers and contractors at a reduced rate, “bringing the cost down to about $100 per sq. ft.,” he explained, “overall it would fit in with their development, it would just be with more cost effective materials, and it probably would be deed restrictive, so it would stay as affordable.”
During the update on the last council workshop, Tuesday, Feb. 6, Gildroy began explaining to the commissioners some of the discussion and questions that was presented at the meeting. “We went over a lot of the stuff that you guys did last year,” he began, “expanding the Downtown Mixed Residential (DMR) zone, (as well as) different areas around the town.” A survey was distributed to councilmembers after the last workshop meeting, Gildroy informed commissioners, stating that six out of seven council members have filled out the opinion-based surveys, which prompted questions as to direction and possible solutions for the affordable housing epidemic. Questions included topics such as allowing downtown lots to be subdivided for small home developments, which Council was strongly in favor of based on their rating in the survey. Another question on the councilmember’s survey, which resulted in a mixed response, was the reduction of building permit fees to remodel existing downtown homes. Gildroy suggested to commissioners that the mixed response may have been due to the unclarity of what fees were being discussed exactly, whether it was permit fees or GFC fees for example. Most council members responded strongly in favor of reducing GFCs for affordable housing, but not the elimination of the fees.
Moving into the small lot and infill developments segment of the agenda, current zones, their corresponding housing types allowed, and if any expansion is needed in each were up for discussion and amendment. “These concepts are not just about affordable housing,” explained Gildroy, leading into housing types, “it’s about creating more housing in our city … we need more housing of all types.” Housing types considered and discussed were as follows:
Cottage Housing, which is currently available in Downtown Mixed Residential (DMR) and Live/Work (WI) zones. “There is very little land available in the DMR zone without redevelopment,” Gildroy began to explain. Currently zoned Multi-family residential (RM), there are about 80 acres above Walmart that have been added to the WI overlay zone, which only has about three homes on it now, he added. “Maybe 40 acres or so are developable, so that might be a good idea,” suggested Gildroy, “maybe expand it to a multi-family zone also.” Commissioner Rachael Goldie communicated her thoughts on the cottage-styled housing, “I really like the idea of the pilot project in the RL zone,” she voiced, followed by asking what, if any, repercussions this housing style may have. “In the past, it was a concept,” replied Gildroy, “your parking is usually on one side, all your houses are usually sitting around a courtyard or open space … but as far as impacts, I don’t really see any with this style of housing.”
Townhomes, currently allowed in RM, Tourist Accommodation (TA) and DMR zones, were briefly discussed until coming upon an agreement that, because of the nature of townhomes being multi-family and its widespread availability in other zones, this particular housing style will not be allowed in RL zones.
Tiny Homes, which are similar to those being built by Manson High School students currently, comes with some concerns and are difficult to categorize, Gildroy emphasized. Some safety concerns come with this housing style as they generally do not come with a Labor and Industries (L&I) stamp, being safety approved, and “if they’re not being built to L&I standards, then pretty much considered an RV,” he stated. Considered a mobile home, whether built on wheels or off-site, “fall into one of two categories,” explained Gildroy, “mobile home/manufactured homes or recreational vehicles.” Currently, in regard to manufactured/mobile homes must only be placed in a mobile home park or plaza, and must be secured to a foundation, he emphasized, stating that most tiny homes are non-compliant in this aspect. Commissioner Joe Collins voiced that he sees an opportunity with this type of housing, “because the need that we have for affordable housing seems to be very seasonal … there seems to be an adequate number of homes in the off season, with vacation properties converted to long-term rentals for a six-month period.” Commissioner Shari Dietrich pointed out in reply to Collins, “but it’s still a cost issue,” she asserted, then explained a situation that a friend is in, where the family was paying $1,800 a month for a seasonal rental, but are now living at a RV park for only $400, concluding her opinion by explaining the thought process of ‘why pay $1,800 a month when you can pay just $400.’
Micro Housing, “refers to a dormitory-style unit with small individual dwellings measuring under 400 sq. ft.,” Gildroy defined, “but they can be a small as 120 sq. ft.” Each unit typically has a separate bedroom, bathroom and kitchenette, but has shared spaced kitchens and recreational spaces. Commissioners suggested this could be a good idea for local businesses looking for housing for their workers. “The one thing with this,” said Goldie, “is I see the people that are probably looking for housing like this are most likely seasonal workers, but that would be a nice assessment to make … to see if that’s something that is actually viable. It seems like micro housing is hip right now,” she suggested, adding “but maybe not something that people would want to live in in other areas.” Demographic for these homes were age ranged 17-27, explained Collins from studies viewed, “it’s really your first entry level housing for most people, and I think it would work pretty well here for the seasonal aspect,” referring to college students coming here for the summer to work, or even agricultural workers. Mayor Mike Cooney provided input that the Chelan Park’s department also struggles with housing for their seasonal workers and suggested the City might be another partner in this style. In concluding the discussion on micro housing, Gildroy stated that he didn’t see a problem with this housing type in RM zones, but suggests disallowing in TA zones, as they could easily be used for vacation rentals.
Chelan planning commissioners meet every third Wednesday at City Hall, beginning at 6 p.m. The next planning commission meeting, however, has been extended out a week for March due to lack of quorum. The meeting will take place Wednesday, March 28.
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