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County says Goosefoot project at odds with rules

COUPEVILLE — Island County said this week that a plan to build an affordable housing project near Bayview Corner can’t be allowed under existing county regulations.

Officials from the Goosefoot Community Fund, a nonprofit organization that partly owns and manages Bayview Corner, had asked the county planning department late last year for a review of county rules to determine if a multi-family housing project could be built on rural-zoned land.

Goosefoot wanted to build 26 rental homes on 6.05 acres — almost two dozen more homes than the existing rural zoning would allow — near Meinhold Road. The organization asked the county if the affordable housing project would meet the definition of an “essential public facility,” a type of project that can be built on rural land as a conditionally permitted use.

Earlier this week, however, the county said an affordable housing project would not meet the definition of an “essential public facility.” County rules contain a list of such facilities, which include airports, schools, group homes, military bases, landfills and sewage-treatment plants — but not affordable housing projects.

“Goosefoot is very disappointed,” said Chris Hurley, chief executive officer for Goosefoot.

“We asked a policy question. We think that in the larger picture ... the lack of affordable housing is a big issue on this island and in this county,” she added.

Goosefoot is evaluating its next steps.

“We’re in that phase, following a ‘No’ from the county...to try to figure out how to advance the issue,” Hurley said. “That isn’t the only way that we can work on the issue.”

“Essential public facilities” are developments that serve a public use but are typically hard to find a place to put because of neighborhood opposition. The list also includes mental health facilities, substance-abuse treatment centers and prisons.

They are also problematic to site because such facilities need large tracts of land to build, and often create impacts ranging from traffic to noise, light and aesthetic issues.

Most of those who commented on the rule review said they were opposed to Goosefoot’s plan to build affordable housing near Bayview Corner.

Bayview property owners lobbied the county to reject any interpretation that would allow Goosefoot to develop the land at greater-than-rural densities. Some said it would create a precedent for development on other rural land, and Goosefoot neighbors also said they were worried about traffic and a drop in property values if the affordable housing project moved forward.

The zoning interpretation decision was made by Island County Planning Director Jeff Tate on March 24.

In its review, the county said affordable housing did not meet the definition of an “essential public facility.” But Tate also noted that the Island County Council of Governments has been working on an affordable housing strategy, and beyond that, the planning department is considering an amendment to its growth plan that covers affordable housing.

“In the rendering of a zoning code interpretation, it is important to not issue interpretations which are likely to be addressed through the legislative process in the near future,” Tate wrote.

Goosefoot has until April 7 to appeal the decision.

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