PORT ANGELES — The use of recreational vehicles as temporary housing was a topic of discussion as the Port Angeles City Council conducted its first reading of the proposed code changes regarding housing.
With the first reading of the municipal code changes approved on Tuesday, the second reading, with the goal of adopting the changes, is set for March 21.
Several public commenters, both in person and online, urged the council to separate the Temporary Housing piece of the amended code and make it its own entity, especially where it concerns the use of RVs as temporary shelters.
The proposed change to the code would modify the Temporary Use Permits section of the code with design standards and timelines to include temporary emergency housing structures and regulated use of RVs as temporary housing.
Specifically, this policy would allow for someone to live in an RV for up to a year while housing is developed or until they find an alternative with the opportunity for a six-month extension. The RV would have to be hooked up to a primary dwelling for utility access.
Public concern centered on how that would impact utility infrastructure as well as the look and character of the neighborhoods in Port Angeles.
“I think honestly these two proposals should be separate as other speakers have said tonight, and that looking at permanent versus temporary housing is quite different and should be treated as such,” said Colby Wait, a Port Angeles resident.
“I was at the planning commission meeting two weeks ago and one of the things that came up was the lack of support for using RVs as temporary housing,” Wait continued.
“There are a lot of questions and concerns regarding this.”
Wait said that potentially eight months of temporary housing is sliding into a permanent phase rather than a temporary phase.
He also voiced concerns about who is going to enforce the 18-month time period, saying that code enforcement is often instigated by complaints from citizens and neighbors.
“So is this going to put the onus on the neighborhood to call in on the RV down the block that has been parked for x amount of months?” Wait asked.
Another city resident, Susie Blake, agreed.
“RVs as temporary housing should be a separate issue,” she said. “They are not adequate housing.”
Port Angeles business owner Erik Marks, who also agreed that temporary housing should be discussed as a separate issue, proposed an alternative solution and volunteered to create a pilot program.
Marks proposed the creation of RV ports wherein the occupier for the RV can safely dwell there but cannot expand beyond that area with tarps and trash. He said that has happened in areas of the city where people dwell in RVs or other temporary housing structures.
Senior Planner Ben Braudrick said staff members have looked at the best practices of other communities, in particular with regard to temporary emergency shelters.
“Here in Washington, we are fortunate that there are several other communities that have already implemented these policies,” Braudrick said.
He said staff members had tried to allow RVs as temporary housing but with some requirements.
“What we don’t want to do is inadvertently allow something that would create additional health, life and safety concerns,” he said.
Said council member Navarra Carr: “The truth of the matter is, there are already people living in RVs and trailers and temporary structures, and we have criminalized that. We decided at some point in our past that we are going to make it a crime to be poor in our community, and I think this is helping to rectify that.”
Carr questioned at what point would a temporary use permit be required, since some people use RVs as extra space when family or friends visit.
Deputy Mayor Brendan Meyer recognized the concerns of those who commented but noted the need for housing in all forms is at a desperation point.
“We really need to make sure this code reflects the kind of development we want,” Meyer said.
“I’ve had some concerns about RV parks and people have shared their concerns about RVs as temporary housing. But there is such a need for all levels of housing. It’s not perfect, but it’s movement, and that is better than stagnation.”
The other proposed code changes include:
• Allow for one unit per 1,750 square feet in R7 Zoning, equating to four units on a 7,000-square-foot lot.
• Allow for alley/street lot subdivisions which, in the older Port Angeles neighborhoods, would provide for the development of infill housing.
• Allow for commercial to residential conversion with design considerations.
• Eliminate bedroom requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) by increasing the maximum size to 800 square feet or 50 percent of the size of the primary dwelling. Additionally, it would allow for park model homes to be included as ADUs.
• Remove size requirements for manufactured homes if they meet code requirements and, lastly, reduce size requirements for trailer parks from 4 acres to 1.4 acres and reorganize the code to involve an overlay zone process instead of a conditional use process.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.