BI blasts proposal for not really being affordable

A proposal for a development in Pleasant Beach Village that included affordable housing was criticized heavily by the Bainbridge Island City Council at a recent meeting.

Some members, like Kirsten Hytopoulos, were dead set against it. “This all just feels icky. I don’t know why we would even entertain this. It’s a cynical use of the concept of affordable housing.”

Others, like Clarence Moriwaki and Jon Quitslund, said while this proposal wasn’t good enough it would be worth trying to negotiate something better. “We can set different terms and see if they can live within that range,” Moriwaki said. Quitslund added: “Some negotiation is still worthwhile. Absent a discussion there won’t be any of it.”

Joe Deets, however, agreed with Hytopoulos, as did most of the council. “I’m underwhelmed,” he said, adding the cost of the units is “way too high,” and there are too few affordable units that are “way too small.” He said “if this is their best offer” it’s not worth council time.

In explaining the pilot project proposal, city manager Blair King said developers would create eight dwellings of 400 square feet each that would remain affordable for the workforce for at least 50 years. There would also be 10 market-rate units of 1,600-square-feet each.

The city was trying to new process called a development agreement. Most of the council likes the concept in theory—members just didn’t like this one.

Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said the proposal’s effort to “really try affordable housing” did not seem sincere. She said it was nowhere near what “could have been done.” As for the new process, she said it can help people “think outside the box on how to do that” (affordable housing).

Councilmember Leslie Schneider likes the process. “A lot of (city development) code is written in worst-case scenario,” but with this process, ideas can be more site-specific. “It encourages innovation to do the right thing in the right place. But I don’t think that’s what this is,” she said of the proposal on the table. While some members said the 400-square-foot affordable units were too small, she disagreed. “We need smaller units. I want the city to be nimble enough” so collaborative tools can be used so people can live where they work.

Quitslund said he was concerned that by shooting down the proposal it could lead to 10 market homes with no affordable units. “That won’t be a good result at all in my view.” He did join the others in showing support for the development agreement process. “Our code is so far out of whack with what we need. We want to turn the table” and should have required affordable housing at Lynwood Center years ago.

Schneider said the new process “encourages developers to come to us with proposals that give the city something that we want.” She said this proposal would cost occupants $2,500 a month so it was really market rate, not affordable. She said a project in that area with small units could work well for workforce housing—“putting units where people work. They don’t have to get into their car, don’t have to drive, don’t have to add to traffic…” She suggested an affordable housing policy that said workers must live within a half-mile of where they work.

Hytopoulos was relieved the council decided not to advance the proposal. “Thank god we’re not going this direction. This thing just needs to go away,” she said. She added that the developer should want to have true affordable housing in the area, as he employs many people there. “It should be something of huge value for the community.”

Inn moratorium

The council passed a moratorium on inns on BI some time ago, and city staff came back with some recommendations.

Planning director Patty Charnas said an inn is defined as a building or group of buildings containing up to 15 guest rooms. Updated regulations would limit the number of inns to three in Lynwood Center and two each in Rolling Bay and Island Center. It would prohibit inns on adjacent properties. And it would require that inns in Neighborhood Centers be owned and operated separately. If approved, the draft law would go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing and recommendation back to the council.

The council ultimately agreed to send it to the Planning Commission but disagreed with the process that the council had to send it to them.

“They can do whatever they want,” Hytopoulos said of the commission.

But Schneider liked that it came to the council first. “It’s a reality check with the council that saves time. We would not want to send to the Planning Commission something the council did not agree with.”