County reviews code changes to address housing crisis

Island County commissioners and planning staff are gearing up to make policy changes to facilitate more affordable housing development.

In October 2018, commissioners adopted goals and guidelines for the county’s approach to housing, and Wednesday staff recommended code changes that follow those guidelines.

“Our goal is to get density where it’s appropriate and to protect the things that need to be protected,” said Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Many of the proposed changes aim to ease development of accessory dwelling units and guest cottages in rural areas.

Proposed modifications include removing minimum lot sizes for guest cottages, allowing their use in rural residential zones and counting each unit that is 1,200 square feet or less as half a dwelling to increase density.

Attached accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, don’t count toward density in the Growth Management Act. Guest cottages in Island County don’t count either because there is a cap on 35 allowed to be built each year in the entire county.

Commissioners said Wednesday they thought ADUS presented one of the possible solutions to help local seniors age in place— one of the issues identified in the housing element of the comprehensive plan.

Staff also proposed to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes to each count as half a dwelling to increase the number that could be built in an area. In mixed use rural areas of intense development, or RAIDS, such as Bayview, staff suggested eliminating density limits and instead limit development based on public health code and septic and water regulations. Commissioners will also consider allowing stand-alone multifamily units.

Manufactured home parks could be allowed in rural residential zones. Staff recommended allowing for smaller lot sizes, smaller area dedicated to each unit and smaller perimeter buffer. If this change is made, the maximum size requirement for manufactured home parks would remain in place.

Staff are still in the process of working with an advisory group of housing industry professionals to find feasible changes. The group plans to review further the idea of allowing duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes in mixed use RAIDS. Additionally, staff will do a study to create “clear standards” for farm worker and other temporary housing, according to the proposal. Johnson said at the meeting she’d like self-contained tiny home units to be considered for seasonal worker housing.

There is also a study planned to consider allowing boarding houses in rural residential zones.

Commissioners were receptive to the suggestions, although they wanted more research done and more information before making decisions. Planner Meredith Penny said the group’s goal is to create changes that balance “rural character” and affordability considerations.

“We want to do this smart, targeted and conservative to what we’re trying to protect,” said Commissioner Janet St. Clair.