Port Angeles planners reject proposal to allow RVs for housing

Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin

Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin

PORT ANGELES — Citing a lack of code enforcement and a housing needs assessment, the Port Angeles Planning Commission has rejected a proposal that would allow people to live in recreational vehicles on private property.

The commission voted 6-0 Wednesday to recommend that the City Council “not move forward at this time” with a temporary dwelling unit ordinance that City Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin floated as short-term fix to the city’s housing crisis.

“I would like to just make certain that the City Council is aware that the lack of a financial commitment to code enforcement plays a role in part of this decision,” said Steve Hopkins, vice-chairman of the Planning Commission.

“I vote against this with a heavy heart because I do recognize that housing is not just a big issue here, but it has become an emergency issue in the city of Port Angeles,” Planning Commission member Ben Stanley added.

“I hope that we can move quickly with the process, starting with the housing needs assessment.”

The controversial ordinance would provide temporary use permits for temporary dwellings in certified RVs and campers on private lots. It would require the applicant to provide for electricity, water and side sewer connections.

The three-year ordinance would not affect RVs parked on city streets.

Twenty-four of 28 speakers who testified Wednesday said they were against the proposal. Concerns ranged from diminished property values to increased crime.

“I don’t want Port Angeles to turn into the world’s largest trailer park,” James Trekas said.

While most agreed that Port Angeles needs more affordable housing, they argued that the ordinance before the Planning Commission was not the right solution.

“Temporary is never temporary,” said Dick Pilling, a Port Angeles Realtor and former Clallam County Republican Party chairman.

“If we allow this, it will become permanent and very difficult to stop,” he said. “Not only will this program become permanent, it will grow exponentially.”

Lynn Bedford, past president of the Port Angeles Association of Realtors, said the ordinance fails to address the mental health and chemical dependency issues that contribute to homelessness and would “definitely reduce property values.”

“These trailers will be sitting around for a long time as eyesores throughout our community,” Bedford said.

Schromen-Wawrin, one of four first-year council members, offered the proposal to provide immediate housing while the council develops medium- and long-term solutions to the housing crisis.

The council has ordered a housing needs assessment as a tool in its policy making.

The need for immediate housing is expressed in U.S. Census American Communities Survey data that shows Clallam County had a 1.8 percent rental vacancy rate in 2016, Schromen-Wawrin has said.

Clallam County rental market was the third-tightest among the 39 counties in the state, according to Schromen-Wawrin’s research.

“Housing policy is complex and difficult because it intersects with so many other economic, social, environmental and urban issues,” Schromen-Wawrin told the Planning Commission during public testimony.

“I found it helpful to think about three issues separately: available housing, affordable housing and homelessness.”

In 2017, the largest demographic increase in Clallam County’s homeless population were elderly single women who had been priced out of their apartments, Schromen-Wawrin said.

“What the policy analysts tell us needs to happen to get out of this affordable housing crisis is more smaller housing units, but it usually takes years to develop multi-unit buildings,” Schromen-Wawrin said.

“In the short term, we don’t have many options.”

In a Thursday interview, Schromen-Wawrin said he would not attempt to advance the RV ordinance absent a favorable recommendation from the Planning Commission.

Most of the City Council attended the Planning Commission meeting, which nearly filled the council chambers to capacity.

“As far as I’m concerned, without a favorable recommendation, we should not move forward with that bill,” Schromen-Wawrin said in a telephone interview.

Planning Commission Chairman Andrew Schwab said it would be “incredible premature” to recommend that the City Council adopt an RV ordinance without a completed housing needs assessment and a mechanism for enforcing the law.

“This city has no budget for code enforcement as it stands, as it is right this second,” Schwab said during the deliberations.

“It sounds like it is on the docket for the City Council to look it. So it’s something that hopefully will be rectified.”

The City Council is expected to discuss code enforcement in a Sept. 25 work session.

“Moving too quickly can put us in a position where we do more harm than good,” Planning Commission member Pamela Hastings said.

Planning Commission member Duane Morris said there were “positive aspects” of Schromen-Wawrin’s proposal that could be applied to conditional use permits.

“I appreciate the fact that somebody came up with a really novel idea,” Morris said.

Stanley added that housing is a “very complex issue.”

“I think this temporary ordinance has already been a success in that it has drawn out real debate among the community and we are actually are really starting to think about the nitty-gritty about solving these issues and not just offering vague ideas or platitudes,” Stanley said.

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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