Boom times are back again for the residential construction industry, and it could lead to more than 700 new housing units in Port Townsend in the next few years.
The City of Port Townsend is charting property development requests, some preliminary and some in more advanced stages, that mark the largest housing construction surge since the 1990s. If all the proposals become reality, it could represent a 17 percent increase in the city’s housing capacity.
“It’s of a scale that we have not seen before since I’ve been here,” David Timmons, city manager, said of the residential construction plans. “It’s going to challenge [city staff], in a good way.”
Another twist with the housing projects: All of them are being promoted by local people.
“This isn’t corporate development,” Timmons said. “This is private people doing this. You don’t see that very often.”
Even more important, given the lack of so-called “affordable” housing in the city and in East Jefferson County in general, is that project proponents seem willing to allocate a portion of their respective developments to meet that need, Timmons said. Three large residential projects (consisting of 500, 100 and 75 units), in particular, seem to promise some relief.
“All three of these owners are wanting to do something and blend in an affordability component,” Timmons said, which could include workforce housing, single-family homes, rental units and/or cluster cottages. “It’s an exciting concept.”
The largest proposal on the city calendar is a 500-unit housing development near the intersection of Discovery Road and Rainier Street, proposed by a Chimacum family. The property development is made possible with the addition of underground utilities as part of the Howard Street Extension project. A traffic roundabout is part of the work at the intersection of Howard Street, Rainier Street and Discovery Road.
Port Townsend residents are eyeing a property purchase of land near San Juan Avenue and Discovery Road, known as the Nomura property, with a potential for 100-150 residential units.
A Port Townsend construction company has applied for a grading permit on a 75-lot residential development off Cook Avenue at Elmira Street.
A possible 50-unit development along Discovery Road closer to Towne Point was approved in 2007. The plans have been idle for economic reasons, but it’s back on the owner’s front burner and could be moved forward quickly, Timmons noted.
Another proponent wants a 20-unit “tiny house” development along San Juan Avenue with the units on wheels. City code presently does not allow wheels on residential units. “We need to look if we can modify the rules,” Timmons said, to allow such a residential development.
Another project already in the city’s process is a seven-unit multifamily development near Hancock and 10th streets.
The largest of the proposed residential projects, 500 units around Discovery Road and Rainier Street, would be developed over a period of time, not all at once, Timmons said. There are nine blocks along Discovery Road, and that property owner has an option on two parcels along Rainier near 20th Street.
“All the utilities are in,” Timmons noted, thanks to work related to the Howard Street Extension project. The property developer still needs a stormwater plan, Timmons noted, as that area is known to have drainage issues.
Proposals are just that – proposals. Typically, a project proponent comes forward with an idea, and city staff makes recommendations to ensure new development fits the existing neighborhood, said John McDonagh, senior planner with the city’s Development Services Department.
“We have some pre-application meetings scheduled with the Rainier Street proponents for later this month,” McDonagh noted. “It’s still very early in the process.”
McDonagh does expect the Discovery/Rainier and Discovery/San Juan projects to be presented “during the first half of this year.”
In terms of construction, 2016 was a busy year, “and all the trends” indicate that would continue in 2017, McDonagh said. However, most of the new construction last year was for single-family homes, which does not automatically equate to rental housing.
“Many in the community are hoping that we see multifamily or some form of rental housing increase in 2017,” McDonagh noted.
Timmons is preparing a plan for how city staff can address these and other construction and property development projects on tap in 2017 and 2018. He has assigned a department lead to each project to outline what city resources are needed to move plans forward. The City Council conducted a workshop Jan. 9 to hear staff recommendations.
“Some of this work I’m going to outsource, because we don’t have the staff to take care of all of it in a timely manner,” Timmons noted. “We’re looking at a two-year time frame for a lot of this,” he added.
At Monday night’s City Council workshop, it was noted that most of the proposed residential developments would not hit the construction phase until 2018.
In terms of property development needs, Timmons said the staff priority is to work on the Port Townsend School District’s construction project to replace Grant Street Elementary. Environmental and conditional-use permits must still be obtained, and the school’s timeline hopes for a call for bids in March, with construction starting this summer so the new school could open in September 2018.
City officials recognize the need for affordable housing of various types: apartments, duplexes or triplexes, and single-family residential.
“The greatest demand we have right now is straight-up rental property,” Timmons said. “We’ve got a lot of people living in sub-standard housing.”
Last year, the City Council gave Timmons the task of developing a plan to have a stock of so-called affordable-housing properties be managed under a “trust,” which could provide long-term marketplace stability.
Now that he has property owners who seem committed to providing some housing inventory, Timmons is working to find an entity to manage those units in a trust. Putting select units under management of a trust would provide long-term sustainability, rather than running the risk that marketplace factors could lead to sales that remove units from the affordability category.
“If we can make this all come together with a trust involved, it can really make a difference,” Timmons said.
(Staff writer Kirk Boxleitner contributed to this story.)
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