Density rule change aimed at affordable housing

Oak Harbor officials took a step they hope will help with the affordable housing crisis on Whidbey.

Oak Harbor officials took a step they hope will help with the affordable housing crisis on Whidbey Island.

At a meeting Tuesday, city council members passed a measure that decreases the minimum size of housing lots allowed in city code. The hope is that allowing smaller residential lots means more housing can be built, which may hopefully someday lead to an increase in affordable housing.

The decrease in minimum lot size was one of 20 recommendations from the Housing Action Plan that was adopted in June 2021. Reducing minimum lot size was considered a high priority.

Senior Planner Ray Lindenburg said staff first identified lot dimensional standards of comparable cities such as Burlington, Mount Vernon and Port Townsend.

“Most cities had much smaller minimum lot sizes than the city of Oak Harbor did,” he said.

Significantly, the change will allow more flexibility in setbacks for residential development, he explained.

Lindenburg said the density change will not affect anyone who already owns existing property, it will just affect future development.

Councilmember Jim Woessner said this was a recommendation that came about four or five years ago from the affordable housing task force.

“We felt it would probably be one of the single drivers of creating more affordable housing in Oak Harbor,” Woessner said. “I’m not talking about low income housing or anything, I’m just talking about making housing in general more affordable.”

Council passed the motion unanimously.

Additionally, the council unanimously passed a motion to allow an increase in housing units from 47 to 60 for a development on Crosby Road. The developer of the property is required to include a traffic study on how the increased number of units will affect traffic on the road.