Clallam County considers dwelling changes

Concerns center on area’s rural character

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County Commissioners discussed responses to the proposed changes to the county’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance, which they have taken on to address the housing crisis.

A public hearing will be conducted March 29 after an initial vote was tabled earlier this month.

“I think the way public comment on this has played out so far shows that we are walking a very fine line in the community and points to the fact ADUs are a very important issue for Clallam County,” said Holden Flemming, planner for the Department of Community Development.

Some of the proposed changes to the ordinance, which hasn’t been updated since 2002, would be to allow an exemption for property owners from the 50 percent gross floor area requirement for detached ADUs smaller than 400 square feet, to allow ADUs to be developed on legal parcels 1.5 acres or greater, to require that ADUs be within 300 feet of the main residence, and to clarify residency requirements as they relate to vacation rentals.

“We have numerous public comments with concerns that we are going too far and could, unintentionally, be negatively affecting the rural character of the community,” Flemming said. “Others say we are not going far enough, that the ordinance as presented is much too restrictive, and with the importance of affordable housing, we should look to remove a lot of those restrictions.”

The majority of the comments available in Monday’s work session agenda showed support for the changes to the ADU ordinance but asked about potentially lowering the acreage restrictions from 1.5 acres to 1.25 acres or less.

“One of the things that came up and one of the things we wanted to look at further was potentially the reducing of the 1.5-acre requirement that is currently in the code, to something less,” Fleming said. “In looking at that, we were able to get GIS data on that and found there are approximately 1,200 properties that are 1.25 acres and 1.5 acres in zones that under the current standard would not allow for detached ADUs.

“The most recent draft that we have opens up ADUs to acres, less than 1.5 acres when they are based and connected to community water systems,” he said.

Several of the comments in favor of the change to the ordinance stated they would like to develop an ADU but do not meet that requirement.

“I have a 1.27-acre lot with a private well and septic,” said Julia Johnson of Sequim. “I have a detached 400-foot heated building that I currently use as an art studio, but it could easily be transformed into an ADU. This would give me the future opt¡on to have family living in the main house and me in my sweet little granny unit with a view. But not under the current code.”

Flemming said the planning commission is not proposing a change to this at the moment as one of the challenges with smaller lots is septic and water system sizes and what they can handle.

“The obvious issue, I think, is that the smaller the parcel becomes, the more difficult it is to have an individual well as well as the septic system size that is ready to serve both the primary dwelling and ADU,” Flemming said.

“The issue is, that 1.5 acres, again I think when we look back at why that number was put as the ‘magic’ number, to begin with, it was as a catchall to say if you have 1.5 acres you are likely able to support both an individual well and an ADU septic system on your parcel. But as the plot gets smaller, the potential for you to meet that becomes more difficult.”

Flemming did not discount the possibility of smaller lot sizes but left it up for something for the commissioners to decide.

The main complaint regarding the proposed change to the ADU ordinance was concerning the loss of rural character of the community with the potential increased density allowed through ADUs.

“ADUs in existing neighborhoods will devalue existing property, diminish my enjoyment of my property, if there are added people across the fence, require upgrades of water, electric and sewer services, which all homeowners will pay,” said Gerald Carpenter of Sequim. “Community water systems will need to increase system capacity at all private users’ expense, and investors in rental property will be incentivized to add ADUs to increase income.”

Clallam County Commissioner Mark Ozias posed a similar question.

“How do we preserve the rural nature of the community, while at the same time making more housing opportunities available?” he asked.

“Rural character is ill-defined, and it is just something we are trying to maintain that relates to some of the specifics here, whether it’s water, road access or building style, attached versus detached. What they really relate to is how our comprehensive plan dictates we should be thinking about this.”

“I think you have hit the nail on the head there that basing that exemption (acreage size) on the public water system is a means to an end of trying to lessen the impact to the rural character,” Flemming said. “The idea is that, in other areas that are already serviced by a community water system, those areas already have a higher level of infrastructure provided to them than would a smaller parcel in the county. So if we do not alter the minimum lot size requirement for the county at large, but rather just in areas where additional infrastructure is provided, we can say we have everything we can to prevent future negative impacts to the rural character.”

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached by email at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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