Bremerton tries to spark affordable housing development

BREMERTON — A lack of affordable housing has dominated headlines in the Puget Sound region in recent years.

Explosive population growth combined with the rising cost of living and stagnating wages has put pressure on cities up and down the I-5 corridor to accomodate new residents without pushing long-time, lower-income residents onto the streets or further out into rural areas away from the jobs and services upon which they depend.

In Bremerton, the city’s planning commission is currently working on a few amendments to the comprehensive plan, part of which lays out the vision for future zoning and development.

Though Kitsap County has not grown as quickly as King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, it has also not been immune to growth. Kitsap added about 2,800 people in 2017, a 1 percent increase, according to Allison Satter, a senior planner with the city of Bremerton who spoke during a July 16 presentation of the amendments.

And with the recent first-year anniversary of the Bremerton fast ferry, which cuts the normally one-hour travel time down to 28 minutes, and another fast ferry planned for Kingston, it seems inevitable that even if the region’s growth slows, people on the east side of the water may soon look to the West Sound for cheaper real estate and a quieter lifestyle.

The amendments were presented for public comments on July 16 but are still a work in progress. The commission is charged with making recommendations to the city council, the governing body that makes any final decisions.

One such amendment deals with revising the downtown subarea plan to provide incentives for developers to include affordable housing development in the downtown core.

“The market keeps changing. Things are not getting better for affordable housing. We need to continue to work on affordable housing,” Satter said. “This is a great opportunity to re-evaluate and see if we are leading the city of Bremerton in a good direction when we deal with affordable housing options.”

One such recommended change is to change parking requirements for new development. The city currently allows 0.5 parking spaces per unit in the downtown core with the idea of creating a compact, walkable area that takes advantage of its connection to Seattle via ferry. In order to encourage development, the plan could be amended to require one parking space per unit unless a certain portion of the units provided are affordable.

The city is also recommending an amendment to the “bonus amenity program” that would allow new development to eclipse maximum height standards when 20 percent of rental units are designated as affordable to households making 60 percent or less of the median income in Kitsap County; or 10 percent of units set aside as affordable for those making 50 percent or less of the median income.

During the public hearing portion, several residents came forward to speak on the issue of affordable housing. Some suggested that using the county-wide median income to determine what falls under “affordable,” may not be a total panacea as incomes vary greatly throughout the county. What would be considered “affordable” on Bainbridge Island would be quite different than Bremerton based on income levels.

“With income stagnant and cost of living rising, ‘affordable’ is a very touchy word to use,” said Regina Adamson, a resident and founder of the Kitsap Public Market. “Definitely be considerate of the future with things that are occurring … as far as what affordable income is going to be in the future five, 10 years down the road for some of these folks.”

The amendments discussed at this workshop have not been finalized and were put out for the purpose of receiving comments from the commission and public. There will be more opportunties for public input at future meetings as the comprehensive plan must be adopted by the end of the year.

The tentative schedule for these meetings are: Sept. 17 at 5:30 p.m.; and Oct. 15 at 5:30 p.m. A city council public hearing to adopt the recommendations will take place in November or December.

— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at mkrulish@soundpublishing.com.

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