County considering cluster housing code revamp

The Island County planning department may consider changing how it allows for clustered housing as part of ongoing efforts to address the affordable housing shortage.

Planning commissioners last week directed staff to look at a point-based system for allowing “density bonuses” on parcels 10 acres or larger. Points would be based on factors such as units being permanently set aside for affordable housing, transit accessibility and proximity to urban areas or rural areas of intense development, called RAIDs.

Currently density bonuses, which allow more units to be built on a property, are allocated based on the amount of open space available on the lot and a maximum bonus for the size of parcel.

Moving to a point-based system would be a major change in the process, staff told commissioner members.

Member Margaret Anderson said she thought the proposed system would be clearer and a tool for encouraging the kinds of developments the county is lacking.

Chairman Darin Hand said communities would be able to add input on what kinds of qualities they’d like to see in their neighborhoods and those could help determine how points are allocated.

“It becomes a foreshaping tool for the communities,” Hand said.

At next month’s meeting, staff members are expected to do a comparison of the proposed point system and the current system based on actual permit applications to demonstrate the difference in density it could make.

Staff proposed other options for changing the cluster housing program as part of a five-year implementation effort to shape policies that follow guidelines in the county’s comprehensive plan. A major update to the housing element of the plan was adopted last year, and the document includes goals related to increasing availability and affordability of housing in the county.