Port Townsend City Council pegs 3 properties as affordable housing possibilities

By Nicholas Johnson of the Leader
Posted 5/7/11

They’re not perfect, but they’ve got potential.

Three city properties were surplussed for affordable housing May 2 in a unanimous vote witnessed by more than 50 attendees.

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Port Townsend City Council pegs 3 properties as affordable housing possibilities

Posted

They’re not perfect, but they’ve got potential.

Three city properties were surplussed for affordable housing May 2 in a unanimous vote witnessed by more than 50 attendees.

Public comment indicated the Discovery, Cherry and Beech street properties have their share of obstacles for safe, sound development, yet council agreed development of the properties would in no way hinge on its May 2 decision.

“I think what we’re being asked to do is make a statement of principal,” said councilmember George Randels. “This city, with a scarce availability of publicly owned land, deems affordable housing to be one of its high priorities. We know of three sites – there may be others that come along – but these three are known, and what we don’t know is their development potential. I think the staff recommendation basically says, ‘let’s make the statement that these have potential.’”

Beyond designating the properties, the city must review proposals from developers and rezone some of the property, much of which is currently zoned for parks and open space rather than the necessary residential zoning. Whether the properties are zoned for multi- or single-family residential depends upon developer proposals. Senior Planner Judy Surber said she and her fellow staff met with Homeward Bound, a community land trust based in Jefferson and Clallam counties, to review their proposal in the days since an April 18 hearing on the properties. Yet, no contracts have been signed and the search for proposals continues.

The Discovery Street property is 5,000 square feet between Discovery Road and 20th Street. The Cherry Street property is 1.78 acres between Cass and A streets. The Beech Street property is a three-parcel, 0.88-acre triangular sliver of sloped land set between M and P streets. Most public comment focused on the Beech Street site. Commenters expressed concern over unstable soil due to runoff, the angle of the slope and the awkward shape of the land, as well as fear for the loss of a wildlife corridor.

“The next step would be for a housing provider to do due diligence on the property and assess the property," Surber said. “There is no guarantee any of these properties would be suitable for affordable housing. It is incumbent upon the housing provider to go in and make the assessment – look at the soil, the slope, the access and utilities – and pencil out the costs.”

In the event a housing provider determined a property, such as Beech Street, to be unsuitable for development, City Manager David Timmons suggested the development rights associated with the surplussed property could be transferred.

“Maybe there are some barriers to development of this property to maintain affordability, but that doesn’t mean the development rights can’t be transferred out, creating a win-win scenario,” Timmons said. “The property would be retained as a holding space with development rights transferred out.”

In essence, the allowable density of another property could be increased with the transfer of development rights. City Attorney John Watts said the city doesn’t currently have an ordinance on the books that would allow the transfer of development rights. He said by rezoning the properties for residential use, the city aims to entice the development of affordable housing through subsidy. Yet Timmons said the city also could sell the property, releasing the development rights and keeping the proceeds.

Mayor Michelle Sandoval, along with nearly every member of the council, touted the importance of affordable housing before taking a vote.

“Every place in this town is a wildlife corridor,” she said, provoking laughter from the packed room. “Though we all wish for our neighborhood to have a lot of wildlife and a lot of trees, there are places that because of the slope may not be suitable for multiple houses.

"We have to remember that we live in a city that’s supposed to be dense and we all need to get behind affordable housing.”

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