Port Angeles temporarily suspends some development fees

Council aims to encourage more affordable housing

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has voted 5-1 to temporarily suspend some development fees to ease impediments to building affordable housing.

Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin moved Tuesday night to “direct city staff to prepare an ordinance to suspend fees until Sept. 1, 2023, for ADUs, triplexes, townhouses, cottages and multifamily developments for residential housing available for families at or below 80 percent AMI” (area median income).

Deputy Mayor Brendan Meyer opposed the motion, arguing that it didn’t change anything.

“I think this isn’t different enough from our current plan, which lacks the capacity to get the development, so this is just reiterating what we already have,” Meyer said.

Mayor Kate Dexter was absent from the meeting.

Planning Commission

This decision was born of recommendations made by the planning commission, which voted 5-1 to forward a letter to the council that recognized the lack of affordable housing in the community as an emergency and making the recommendation for immediate action.

However, city staff recommended the council take no action because of other components that are already in the works.

“There are many components to the planning commission’s recommendations that need to be carefully weighed in order to ensure the city remains in compliance, considering potential long-term impacts and mitigates budgetary constraints on the general fund that may result in subsidizing private development,” said Emma Bolin, interim director of Economic and Community Development.

In the letter, the planning commission suggested three city actions.

The first is city should reform water and sewer development to incentivize ADU, duplex and multi-family home development, a process that is already being addressed by the Utility Advisory Committee.

“We would like to respect the process of ongoing currently with the UAC in preparing reform for system development charges,” Bolin said.

UAC and the Department of Public Works and Utilities are in the process of updating water development charges for ADUs for council consideration. Updates could include an exception from the separate connection requirement when certain conditions are met.

The second recommendation — upon which the council chose to take action — was to suspend permit fees for ADUs, duplexes and multifamily housing.

City staff cautioned against this action, noting that suspension of building permit fees would result in the general fund tax funding subsidizing the permit abatement for these projects.

Also, staff said the action has no affordability requirement for units produced nor does it include any sunsetting provisions.

The third recommendation was that the city increase its density in R7 zones, which the current code already allows for.

“R7 zoning currently allows for four units per parcel with a cottage housing development or by subdividing a 7,000-square-foot lot and building a duplex on each,” Bolin said.

Council member Mike French said it’s very difficult for the city to do nothing. This is the least that can be done at this point, he added.

“I understand staff’s recommendation and I think it’s totally reasonable, but it’s really hard for me when someone says, ‘Hey, we should be doing more on housing,’ it’s hard for me to take no action, so good on Lindsey for saying, ‘Let’s take an action,’” French said.

“I don’t think that fees or costs necessarily are the main reason we are not getting construction in the city,” he added.

“The main benefit of this action is that it will lower fees or costs,” but it would also remove “a bureaucratic veto point in the planning process that a project could run up against,” French said.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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