Former Port Angeles Mayor Frank McPhee gives testimony Wednesday evening at a Port Angeles Planning Commission meeting at City Hall. The city is weighing several changes to its zoning code in an attempt to increase the amount of local housing stock. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)

Former Port Angeles Mayor Frank McPhee gives testimony Wednesday evening at a Port Angeles Planning Commission meeting at City Hall. The city is weighing several changes to its zoning code in an attempt to increase the amount of local housing stock. (Peter Segall/Peninsula Daily News)

Zoning proposals prompt concerns

Port Angeles considers ways to build housing

PORT ANGELES — While Port Angeles officials weigh several changes to the city’s zoning codes in an effort to increase housing stock, residents have concerns about the impacts those changes might bring to the community.

At a meeting of the city Planning Commission on Wednesday evening attended by about two dozen people, residents expressed concerns about the impacts denser housing might have on city infrastructure such as roads, sewers and the availability of parking.

“It doesn’t give you a warm fuzzy feeling to think about that kind of density moving in,” said Port Angeles resident Richard Kendall during the public comment period.

“Where are they going to park all the cars? What’s going to happen to the sewage?”

Wednesday’s hearing was conducted as part of the city’s Pursuing Housing for All initiative, which is seeking to find ways the city can help increase the amount of housing.

Only one commentator — former Planning Commissioner Steve Luxton — spoke in support of the proposed changes.

Luxton said he knew of local workers who were sleeping in their cars and that some businesses were unable to hire staff due to housing constraints.

“I know that there’s concerns, if we don’t do this the town’s not going to survive,” Luxton said.

“There’s a big part of the constituency that doesn’t have the time to be here. There’s a huge group of people out there who aren’t going to be able to make a public comment.”

Starting in 2017, the city has been revising its zoning codes to make it easier for additional housing to be constructed.

That includes adding density to the city’s residential zones.

Among the changes being considered is allowing up to four units on 7,000-square-foot lots in the city’s R7 zones.

Under the current municipal code, R7 is designated as residential low-density zoning, but under the proposed revisions it would be residential mixed density.

Other changes seek to make it easier for homeowners to construct accessory dwelling units and allow certain housing units to be oriented on alleyways rather than roadways.

Planning commissioners and city staff emphasized throughout the meeting that the proposed changes were meant to give homeowners or developers as much flexibility as possible to bring additional density to neighborhoods.

“We are trying to respond to other members of the community that are identifying our housing crisis as the major issue in our community,” said Ben Stanley, chair of the planning commission. “That is why we are taking a more aggressive approach to that kind of zoning.”

RVs as housing

Another proposed change opposed by some members of the public was the temporary permitting of recreational vehicles as a kind of housing.

Currently a number of people are living in RVs in residential areas who are not properly connected to things like water or electricity. Several commentators argued that RVs were not suitable for long-term residences and that permitting them in residential areas would be unsafe and lower home values.

Several people stated — and some commissioners agreed — that once permitted, RVs might not be temporary but effectively turn into permanent housing.

“If it’s temporary, how do you stop it?” asked Kevin Russell, a Sequim resident and developer who works in Port Angeles. “Can anybody tell me of a municipality that has done this before and it’s been a success?”

But while commissioners and staff acknowledged that RVs are not ideal housing, they noted many people are already using them as a form of housing.

“Right now we have no way that someone in an RV can come into (code) compliance,” said Housing Coordinator Holden Fleming.

“We want to address that safely and in a manner that allows for permanent connections with the understanding that these are not a replacement for permanent dwellings,” Fleming said.

Changes first step

Commissioners and staff said the proposed changes are just the first step in increasing the housing stock in the city, and there were other regulations in place meant to ensure the proliferation of housing didn’t strain city infrastructure.

“The pathway that we’re taking is zoning before infrastructure. I think that zoning isn’t just a green light to development,” said Senior Planner Ben Braudrick. “You still have to go through a feasibility analysis to see if the capacity for any of this development is going to happen.”

Increasing the housing stock would also increase the tax base, Stanley said, giving the city more revenue to address infrastructure issues.

The planning commission will have another public hearing on the proposed changes on Feb. 22.

The proposed changes will be presented to the Port Angeles City Council for adoption before April 1, to take advantage of a state law allowing municipalities to change their zoning codes without going through the State Environmental Policy Act process.

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

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