Port Townsend City Council approves zoning changes

Reforms seek to increase housing density

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has approved changes to the city’s zoning code, capping a weeks-long process aimed at increasing housing density.

In a unanimous vote on Monday night, council members approved changes making it easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units on their property, removing certain design requirements and setbacks for cottage housing and tiny homes on wheels in some residential zones.

State law allows cities to forgo the appeal process under the State Environmental Policy Act and the Growth Management Act if changes to the zoning code are made before April 1 — which is Saturday — and many cities have made such changes recently.

Most of the changes approved were previously recommended by the city Planning Commission and refined at a council meeting last week.

Both the planning commission and past council meetings received a significant amount of public comment, with many members of the public calling on officials to include mandatory affordability provisions in the code changes.

Last week, dozens of community members gave in-person testimony calling on the city council to mandate affordability, but on Monday only a few people gave comment and only one called for the inclusion of affordability provisions.

“I would have moved my business out of this county long ago had it not been for the compassion of friends,” said Pat Murphey, a Port Hadlock business owner.

“Lack of affordable housing is limiting economic growth and actively working against small business resiliency,” Murphey said.

City officials have pushed back against affordability mandates, arguing that the inclusion of such demands might inadvertently drive away potential development and further negatively impact the housing supply.

Council members said the city would take a closer look at ways to increase the supply of affordable housing in the city following the April 1 deadline.

“Trying to figure out a way to make housing as affordable as possible in the city policy context is a very difficult and fraught process, especially given the limited tools that we have as a municipality,” said Mayor David Faber.

“The discussion around affordability in this community is definitely ongoing, and how to make that have as much full-throated support from the city as possible is an ongoing concern,” Faber said.

Faber said one of the changes he’d like to see locally were the provisions outlined in House Bill 1110, currently before the state Senate, that would allow fourplexes in all residential parcels and offer density bonuses to six-plexes if two of the units were reserved for affordable housing.

That law would apply only to cities with a population of more than 25,000 — Port Townsend has just more than 10,000 — but the city could pass its own version of the law, Faber said.

The city has some affordability provisions already on the books, but Faber said many of them have been under-utilized.

Several council members noted the difficulty many builders face in terms of costs and workforce when trying to build in Jefferson County.

“We have very few large-scale developers based out of Port Townsend. It’s very difficult to get funding for spec-built housing at any scale, at any price point,” said council member Libby Urner Wennstrom.

“Local lending is another piece of the affordability puzzle that could be worked on,” she added.

Council member Owen Rowe said that, at the next meeting, the city council could direct the planning commission to look into affordability.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsuladailynews.com.

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