Monday, October 31, 2016

Q: I attended the public meeting on the comprehensive plan a couple of weeks ago and I’m confused.

It seems the committee working on this wants to "up zone" areas around town to encourage higher density. As I understand it that means a property zoned for one house can now add more. I look around town and see several large empty properties that haven’t been built on. I looked up the zoning on these and they all could have a large number of houses on them. Why can’t those be built on instead of changing zoning?  

A: What many people don’t understand is that most of the parcels of land around town that are not developed have large areas designated as wetlands. So a five acre parcel zoned for 12 to 14 houses might only accommodate one house due to the setbacks required. This has been documented. That means that those properties that were planned for multifamily housing in past town plans simply can’t be developed to their full capacity. So we need to look a bit further from the center of town to find property that may not have these limitations.

Keep in mind that there are many other barriers to development, not just zoning. District 19 has been closed to new shares for many years. Without water shares or the ability to drill an approved well, which is hard to accomplish, the property still can’t be developed. Our water district has been very conservative in their approach, which they need to be.

But we have a real housing crisis. Rents are very high and many homes that used to be rented have sold in the last two years and are now owner occupied. This is crushing local workers who can’t afford to buy but can’t find an affordable rental. We are starting to see people who have lived here all of their lives moving away or moving to a cheaper rental area and commuting back to their Vashon jobs. Many elderly folks on fixed incomes are really struggling to pay ever increasing rents. We need to do something.