The Bremerton city council approved an approximately $128 million 2019 budget on November 20. (City of Bremerton)

The Bremerton city council approved an approximately $128 million 2019 budget on November 20. (City of Bremerton)

Citing affordable housing need, Bremerton passes new zoning laws

Duplexes now permitted in low-density neighborhoods, city says.

City lawmakers passed a slate of zoning changes on Wednesday.

The amendments were conceived in part to spur the development of affordable housing citywide, officials said.

The new zoning rules include an 80 percent increase in allowed dwelling units per acre within “medium density residential” zones; the permitting of duplexes and townhomes in “low density residential” zones if they’re within 500 feet of a commercial district; and the removal of density restrictions in “general commercial” zones.

A full list of the proposed zoning changes can be downloaded from the City of Bremerton website, here.

The move to increase the allowed units in medium density residential zones from 10 dwelling units per acre to 18 dwelling units per acre was proposed by the Planning Commission with hopes of increasing housing supply and encouraging redevelopment of old properties.

Medium density residential zones make up a relatively small segment of Bremerton’s land use map, with two prominent MDR zones in East Bremerton; one on the west side of Wheaton Way south of Sheridan, and another north of East Park, south of Sylvan Way. The areas are developed primarily with duplexes, according to city staff.

“As many of these duplexes were constructed from the World War II boom, much of this area could benefit from redevelopment,” an exhibit from the city’s Community Development department states.

Most of Bremerton’s neighborhoods outside of the downtown core are in what’s called low density residential zones. Currently, zoning law states that only one home is allowed on a single residential lot.

The ordinance passed Wednesday amends the code to allow duplexes and townhomes in LDR zones, if they’re within 500 feet of a city center or a commercial district.

Density requirements in low-density zones are unchanged – a duplex or townhome would still be subject to limits of five to ten dwelling units per acre. In other words, the lot would have to be large enough to sustain multiple units. And design criteria for the buildings will have to meet zoning code, city staff said.

While most of the proposed measures passed, other measures, also geared toward incentivizing affordable housing, were left on the cutting room floor during months-long public deliberations by the Planning Commission and city lawmakers.

Council members rejected a proposal to limit building heights to 75 feet – unless a promise of affordable housing units was made by the developer – citing concerns it would slow growth. And a measure to incentivize affordable units by easing parking requirements for developers who include them was also dismissed.

Council member Richard Huddy was outspoken against many of the zoning changes proposed by the Planning Commission. He said he worries allowing more housing types might ultimately change the character of neighborhoods.

“I am opposed to the whole notion that we are going to try to create more affordable housing by cramming additional units into existing single family housing zones,” he said.

Huddy was the lone council member who voted against the omnibus zoning ordinance Wednesday.

Citing the mayor and city council’s stated goal of increasing the supply of affordable housing in 2018, other members of the council voted to approve the bulk of the changes.

“I think we all can agree that sprawl is bad, and that we do need to go up,” council member Kevin Gorman said. “But there are certain responsibilities we all have to what that looks like.”

“This is a slow process, it doesn’t have to happen overnight,” he said.

The ordinance passed via a 6-1 vote. It will take effect later this month, city planner Allison Satter said.

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