Port Townsend designates three parcels for affordable housing

PORT TOWNSEND — The City Council voted to designate three small parcels as surplus property on which affordable housing would be constructed, instructing City Manager David Timmons to report back to the council on the steps necessary to begin building.

Monday’s Port Townsend City Council action was unanimous despite testimony from some at a public hearing that development would be difficult on at least one of the parcels.

The motion that the council approved was broader than a previous staff recommendation that Timmons enter into a letter of intent with Homeward Bound for construction of several units.

Upon the recommendation of the planning staff, the council decided instead not to commit to a specific developer until more specific data were acquired.

This is only the beginning of the process, as any developer comm­itting to construction would be required to procure building and environmental permits, development Director Rick Sepler said.

The three parcels are each a fraction of an acre.

They are located in residential areas near the corner of Discovery Road and Holcomb Street, near Grace Lutheran Church on Cherry Street, and on Beech Street near P Street.

The parcel located on Beach Street is heavily wooded and would need to be cleared, which would increase erosion, according to some neighbors.

“The Beech property is a very difficult slope,” John Mericle said.

“If you clear the trees, it will result in greater erosion, and it supplies part of an important wildlife corridor between Fort Worden and other areas,” he added.

Mericle said he did not agree with the city’s characterization of the hill as “a moderate slope”

Daniel Barnes, speaking from a wheelchair, said his family would certainly qualify to occupy a low-income dwelling but that the lot in question could not be adapted for handicapped access.

Developer Robbie Metzger also spoke out against using the parcel, calling it “a marginal lot that would be difficult to develop.”

Several of those testifying said they favored the concept of affordable housing, with Mericle saying “I may have to use it some day,” but stated that developing the lot was an ecologically unsound choice.

Timmons said the land may not be appropriate for development but that declaring it as surplus and inviting developers to examine it closely was a necessary step in getting the most use out of it.

Judy Surber, city planner — answering a question from City Councilman Mark Welch — said declaring the land as surplus property and then asking developers to perform the inspections made more sense than having the city conduct the inspections because that method would save the city money.

Deputy Mayor George Randels made the motion to designate the land as surplus — and also acknowledged the challenges.

“With this action, we are making a commitment to the development of affordable housing,” he said.

“It will be up to other parties to determine whether these parcels are viable for that purpose.”

Mayor Michelle Sandoval said she disagreed with the often-repeated statement that the parcels were necessary wildlife habitats.

“Everything in this town is a wildlife corridor, but we are living in a city, and a city is supposed to be dense,” she said.

“There are issues with these parcels that we will need to sort through, but we need to get behind the concept of affordable housing, which will make our city and community richer,” Sandoval said.

Surber broached the idea for developing low-income housing on the three city-owned parcels at a housing forum in early April.

Homeward Bound’s David Rymph said then that money is available to build affordable housing if adequate locations can be found. Habitat for Humanity of East Jefferson County could provide volunteer labor, said Jamie Maciejewski, director of that group.

Since then, the idea has developed into designating the land for affordable housing but opening up the process to developers.

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Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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