Port Townsend eyes changes to housing code

Amendments to change modulation, maximum size of ADUs

PORT TOWNSEND — The City Council is considering a series of recommended amendments to the housing code that are intended to encourage a mix of development options.

Municipal code amendments, recommended by the city Planning Commission on Dec. 30, include modifications to design modulation, expanding the size of what’s considered an accessory dwelling unit, and potentially allowing duplexes, triplexes and four-plexes in the highest-density residential zone currently reserved for multifamily structures.

Development Services Director Lance Bailey presented the recommendations Monday, and the council could approve them as early as March 16.

The council also had a first reading Monday night of the city’s updated parks, recreation and open spaces plan, and it approved both a television cable franchise agreement with Wave Division III LLC, as well as a resolution to use a Jefferson County Public Infrastructure Fund grant in the city’s $300,000 Rainier Street regional stormwater project.

The housing code amendments come from a series of meetings with developers and residents who have addressed specific issues, Bailey said.

With modulation — a design element intended to break up the look of a flat wall as it faces a primary street — the recommendation is to expand from a maximum of 20 feet long to 30 feet, Bailey said.

One reason is to accommodate more manufactured homes, which come pre-fabricated and often don’t meet the code, he said.

“There’s only so much you can do to create modulation,” said Bailey, who pointed to examples in Bloomington, Ind., as well as Wenatchee.

“Interestingly enough, our code does not apply to [residential-III] and R-IV zones, and it doesn’t apply to multifamily,” Bailey said. “As our planning commissioners pointed out, it seemed like it’s opposite than how some other cities are handling it.”

He also said a standard city lot is 50 feet wide.

“The setbacks are five feet on one side and 10 on the other, so you get to choose,” Bailey said. “You have 35 feet left with your structure, typically.”

The Planning Commission also recommended an exemption if the structure totaled 1,000 square feet or less.

“This is a bulk-and-scale recommendation,” Bailey said.

In a similar fashion, the commission has requested an increase in size for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from a maximum of 800 square feet to 1,000 square feet, and the recommendation would apply both to attached and detached ADUs.

“I think we need to be careful in terms of how large we allow them,” he said, adding 1,200 square feet is large enough for a three-bedroom house.

“When you look at a lot and there’s a primary residence and a secondary, you should be able to see the difference between the two.”

The city also is considering an allowance of single-family residences in the R-IV designation, although the structures would need to be at least duplexes for density purposes.

“You are required to build structures that have a minimum of five housing units, so essentially you are required to build multifamily,” Bailey said.

The city hasn’t had such a development since 2006, he added.

Additional recommendations include allowing a higher density for cottage developments and lowering the minimum lot size, and to delete the definition of family from the zoning code because it could potentially limit the number of unrelated people living in a single home to six.

Bailey said the family definition recently has become problematic in other areas of the country.

“You’d be hard-pressed to enforce it, but there have been some situations recently where some cities and counties have had situations where they’ve had these types of definitions in their code and it was used to prevent certain living situations from occurring,” he said.

Bailey cited college and border towns where larger groups of people might live in the same structure.

“It’s not uncommon now for cities to be taking this out of their code,” he said.

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Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].

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