County ponders code changes to housing element

Island County is in the first steps of implementing code changes to encourage development of more affordable housing options, such as accessory dwelling units, duplexes and farm worker housing.

Last Thursday, planning staff presented to the planning commission a series of proposed code changes that are intended to meet goals established in the county’s housing element of the comprehensive plan, which is a long-range planning document adopted last year.

The proposals include allowing accessory dwelling units, called ADUs, in planned residential developments, rural zones and rural residential. The size limitations could also be raised to allow for larger attached and detached ADUs than had been previously allowed.

However, there would also be language to help “keep the character of the neighborhood,” planner Meredith Penny told the commission last week. There are requirements, such as the accessory unit can’t have a door facing the same direction as the main unit’s front door or have a different address, to maintain the appearance of a seamless single-family home, she said.

Planning staff additionally proposed to allow duplexes to count as one dwelling unit if each individual unit is less than or equal to 1,200 square feet. The impact the smaller units would have on the neighborhood is likely be minimal, and the housing element directs planning efforts to encourage smaller, more affordable housing types, Penny said.

Farm worker housing is already an allowed use under county code, but staff members have proposed to clarify regulations and allow it in rural zones in addition to rural agriculture and commercial agriculture. Both changes came in response to public comment receive during the update to the housing element.

Permanent structures that house seasonal farm workers are regulated by the state Department of Health. Temporary farm worker housing, which may use a recreational vehicle, travel trailer or tiny home on wheels placed where the employee works would be regulated by the county. Temporary permits for this type of housing would be valid for up to 180 days.

Manufactured homes used as farm caretaker dwellings would also be regulated by the county. Permits for these dwellings would last one year and be eligible for extensions.

Boarding houses would be a new definition and allowed use in the rural residential zone in the proposed code. The units are defined as permanent buildings where lodging is provided in exchange for compensation but doesn’t include transient accommodations, single-family homes, apartments or group homes.

There are also changes to allow mobile and manufactured communities in the rural residential zone on a smaller scale than they currently are allowed in the rural zone and to separate standards for RV parks and other campgrounds.

The planning commission last week did not finish going over the proposed changes and haven’t yet made a final recommendation to the Board of Island County Commissioners. The full list of proposed changes can be found on the planning commission page of the county planning department’s website, www.islandcountywa.gov/planning.

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