Mixed-use ordinance to be reviewed by planning commission

PORT ORCHARD — The City of Port Orchard and Mayor Rob Putaansuu are to introduce to the city’s planning commission on Nov. 7 a mixed-use pilot program and development regulations ordinance that will target underperforming downtown-area properties primarily for development.

The program intends to create mixed-use development — residential and commercial — that the mayor hopes will spur new development that includes up to 200 living units. The ordinance is all about creating more density — additional residents living downtown.

Currently, Port Orchard city code allows for downtown units 3,500 square feet or larger, which Putaansuu said is not economically viable.

“I don’t believe that’s the market,” he quipped. “We need to be denser than that.”

In tandem with this ordinance’s hearing before the planning commission, set for 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers, a revision to the city’s design standards for commercial buildings will undergo review the following week, on Nov. 15. Putaansuu said an open house is planned and public comment will be requested at that meeting.

The mayor also said the pilot program will attempt to stimulate more housing starts in the city.

The program, which will work in conjunction with the new commercial design standards, will encourage new residential-commercial building projects in areas that include the city’s vacant lot at 640 Bay St.; west of Frederick Street; the outskirts of downtown where the Cheers restaurant resides and eastward at Westbay Center. The program boundaries also include the vacant complex that sits behind KFC near Bethel and Bay streets.

Putaansuu envisions up to a five-story building on the city’s Bay Street property, which he said would become a viable proposition with new design standards. Mixed-use building standards today don’t allow for economically viable projects, the mayor said.

“The pilot project is trying to promote mixed-use development,” he said.

“We’ve had mixed-use development on our books for 15 years, and we don’t have a single project yet. So, something is not right in our code. That type of development is happening in other communities.”

Putaansuu, City Council and planning commission members, and a number of city directors made a field trip to population centers in King County that successfully made the transition from having a purely commercial zone to one with residential use.

The towns of Bothell, Burien and Mill Creek and the urban enclave of High Point in West Seattle were visited during the Urban Design Tour.

The new design standards will relax parking requirements for mixed-use buildings. Current city standards call for one-and one-half parking stalls per unit. Putaansuu said that discourages development — and it encourages an automobile-centric community.

“(To build) parking is very expensive,” he said. “The goal of this (pilot project and new design codes) is to create pedestrian improvements. We’re trying to make a more walkable community, so relaxing some of those parking standards will provide pedestrian improvements in the project.”

The ordinance states that few opportunities exist in Port Orchard for car-free living due to a lack of non-motorized pedestrian facilities.

The areas targeted by the pilot project offer opportunities for car-free living, the ordinance states, because of an abundance of transit options: Kitsap Transit, the fast ferry and foot ferry, and car sharing services like Uber and Lyft.

While doorbelling during his campaign for mayor two years ago, Putaansuu said he heard a common refrain from residents: “Time and time again, I heard, ‘When are we going to do something about downtown? How do we change what’s going on?’ This is my effort to do that.”

While the city doesn’t have industry partners identified to participate in the project, the mayor said some members of the development community have participated as stakeholders in the ordinance’s planning stages.

“This has taken longer than I would have liked, but I’m excited that we’re finally bringing this forward,” Putaansuu said.

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