Poulsbo’s City Council held a public hearing on the potential rezoning of the downtown corridor to allow for mixed-use buildings.
At the public hearing during the council’s meeting Wednesday night, the City Council requested the Planning Commission and Economic Development Committee work to draft an ordinance allowing for zoning of mixed-use/residential use in the downtown area, but outside the overlay. The overlay is a set of standards that dictates and maintains the Norwegian character of the downtown area specifically on Front Street.
Councilmembers adopted amendments to the Poulsbo’s Municipal Code 18.80. Commercial Zoning Districts in late 2018. The amendments adhere to all four of the commercial zoning districts and addressed the permitted use, landscaping and design standards used in creating the downtown shopfront overlay.
In early 2019, Mayor Becky Erickson requested the Economic Development Committee (EDC) review the amendments’ mixed-use/residential components, specifically for the C1, or downtown, zoning districts.
Erickson noted in a previous meeting that if the city doesn’t investigate this zoning option, it could be a missed opportunity that would not only preserve the downtown area but address a growing housing crisis.
“Delayed maintenance on older buildings in the C1 zone has resulted in expensive upgrades to meet new safety standards for commercial buildings. Commercial rents downtown do not support the expense of those upgrades,” Erickson said.
The EDC discussed multiple options for mixed-use and residential zoning in the C1 and other commercial districts at multiple meetings beginning in February. They ultimately chose to focus on zoning specifically in the C1 area in April, after which they recommended that the City Council hold a workshop to continue these discussions.
The council held a workshop at its June 19 meeting and handed over responsibilities to the Planning Commission. On July 23, the Planning Commission came back to the council recommending that the city approve the zoning.
The Planning Commission laid out what the mixed-use zoning would look like:
- There will be no residential units on the main floor of the buildings.
- Access to residential space will be on the first level behind the commercial areas.
- The first floor must be a commercial space.
Some exceptions were made for zoning. For example, residential units may be on the first floor within the C1 district, provided they are built to commercial code standards and are outside the shopfront overlay.
Planning and Economic Development Director Karla Boughton presented a pro and con list for this proposed rezoning.
The “pros” in allowing for mixed-use zoning would generate enough revenue to refurbish aging buildings to meet new commercial standards. This includes an opportunity to make major improvements to 3rd Avenue. It could also improve nightlife options downtown, with more residential options to support the economy.
The “cons” include the potential that by allowing mixed-use buildings, the space used for residential units will never be converted back to commercial. The list also included concerns about the marketplace, which currently needs additional residential space. That could, however, change to a need for more commercial space.
After Boughton’s presentation, the council heard from citizens, who shared differing opinions about the proposed zoning.
Gene Charters, a Poulsbo Historical Society member, noted that the rezoning could drastically change Poulsbo.
“Modifying this code will change Poulsbo forever,” Charters said. “Why would the council or Planning Commission believe that those in residential would change back to commercial?”
A representative from the Kitsap Housing Association claimed that he would support the rezoning as long as residential space that is built is affordable.
“I’d hate to see this built, but only those making top dollar could afford it,” he said.
The council ultimately voted in favor of the EDC and Planning Commission drafting an ordinance that the council will vote on in September.