Port Townsend mulls buying land for housing

Development would add affordable, workforce quarters

PORT TOWNSEND — One hundred to 150 housing units plus retail stores and a child-care center, all for a mix of people who live, work and shop in the neighborhood — this is the vision for the Evans Vista property, a 14-acre parcel the city of Port Townsend is poised to buy.

In a lengthy discussion Monday night, the City Council looked at the plan presented by Public Works Director Steve King.

Using state Department of Commerce grants, the city would purchase the land on Evans Vista Street, just south of Sims Way near the Rainier Street roundabout. Eight of its acres are flat or gently sloping, King said, so there is ample land for construction of housing and commercial buildings.

Evans Vista would be purchased for two kinds of development, King explained.

First: “long-lasting affordable housing,” as in 30 to 50 units for people earning 50 to 80 percent of the area median income. Also planned: another 80 or more “workforce” housing units for residents who make 80 to 120 percent of the AMI.

It remains to be seen exactly how many homes can be constructed on the property, King said, but “the principle here is that we are looking at … at least 100 units,” along with shops and other businesses that make Evans Vista a destination for people who don’t live there.

The city would spend $1,395,000 to acquire the property — a sum largely covered by state grants. The contract for a $1.37 million award from Commerce is in hand, King said.

Building the utility infrastructure for the Evans Vista neighborhood is an added hill to climb. For that, the state has authorized a $1.7 million grant, King said.

For the past several weeks, King and his staff have been performing due diligence on the property, researching whether it is viable for a project of this scale and purpose. That has included spending $20,000 on a land survey performed by Willamette Cultural Resources, a firm based in Seattle and Portland, Ore.

In its surveys, the firm digs test beds to look for artifacts related to Native American presence and any other type of historical use, King said in an interview.

“They gave us their results,” he added, “and there is no physical evidence of cultural resources.”

Interesting information was found in the property’s historical records, however. King said he’ll present that to the City Council during a meeting later this month, either on Dec. 13 or Dec. 20.

There are several unknowns with this project, King told the council. First, the city doesn’t have a builder or organization lined up to construct all of those homes. The ratio of “affordable” to “workforce” housing hasn’t been hammered out, either.

But King’s presentation emphasized the city is eager to collaborate with the Housing Solutions Network, the nearly four-year-old nonprofit group formed in response to Jefferson County’s housing crisis.

Peter Bonyun, a 41-year resident of Port Townsend and a fervent advocate for better housing options, urged the council members to move forward on the land purchase — despite the unknowns.

“If we do not take creative and bold action now,” he said, “we risk becoming another Carmel or Aspen,” where people cannot afford to live anywhere near their workplaces.

The Housing Solutions Network will engage with city staff every step of the way toward realization of the Evans Vista neighborhood, Bonyun added.

“We can be leaders … we must not allow Port Townsend to be Carmel-ized.”

Mayor Michelle Sandoval and the other council members expressed their hopes for a future with more affordable housing — along with trepidation about the risks of buying the Evans Vista property.

Ariel Speser, who, like Sandoval, will finish her term on the council Dec. 31, said she looks forward to watching what happens.

“It’s very exciting,” she said, and “it sounds like there’s great community support.”

The Evans Vista property will come back to the City Council agenda in its Dec. 13 meeting — and the purchase is set to close Dec. 17, King’s report noted.

And while questions remain, he added, “all in all, we can move forward with this project if we choose to.”

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or durbanidelapaz@peninsuladailynews.com.

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