Council reverses housing policy

"In an action that may have violated state law, the city council Wednesday reversed an affordable-housing policy it had unanimously adopted last fall. In the process, it left in limbo a number of pending purchases of affordable homes. But some of those in Wednesday's majority said they might move quickly to lift the cloud created by the decision.I think there may be some issues we didn't think about, councilman Norm Wooldridge said Thursday.At issue is how to treat homes built under Bainbridge's affordable-housing ordinance. When originally adopted, the ordinance required such homes to remain affordable for 30 years, limiting resale to people who could meet the applicable income ceiling.But at the urging of affordable-housing advocates, the council amended the city's comprehensive plan last November, eliminating the 30-year affordability requirement and substituting one by which the seller pay a portion of sale profits to the city. Then in December, the council approved a procedure to implement the value-recapture program. The only thing remaining was to pass an ordinance reflecting the amended comprehensive plan, and that was the ordinance before the council Wednesday for final reading.But on a 4-3 vote, the council rejected the ordinance, essentially repudiating its actions of late 1999.Sometimes things change. We may not have realized the ramifications fully of what we approved, said Liz Murray, one of the majority who voted against the ordinance this week.The perceived tradeoff is building up a stock of affordable homes on the island, versus simply getting first-time buyers into the market. The majority argued that if once-affordable housing is resold at market rates, those homes would have to be replaced. And while the value-recapture plan would provide money to build new affordable homes, that would increase housing densities to an unacceptable level, they said.The density will be too high outside Winslow to be acceptable to the people of this island, whether for affordable housing or anything else, Murray said at Wednesday's meeting.It's a tough issue that needs another look, said Wooldridge. He and Murray were joined in the majority by Michael Pollock and Christine Nasser, who were not on the council last year when the value-recapture provision was approved.But a collective change of mind may not be legal. According to city Administrator Lynn Nordby, the state Growth Management Act requires city councils to pass ordinances that conform to their comprehensive plans.The Bainbridge municipal code seems to say the same thing. It states that when the council amends the comprehensive plan, it shall pass conforming ordinances.I don't think they have any choice, Nordby said.City attorney Rod Kaseguma was out of his office this week, and did not attend the council meeting. Nordby said he will ask for a legal opinion on whether the city council had any choice about passing the ordinance.At the same time, there are buyers caught in the middle, including those at the Strawberry Place sweat-equity project off Weaver Avenue.When the council approved the interim value-recapture rules, it directed that those rules would go into effect for six months. And some affordable homes have been sold according to those interim guidelines.It leaves those people with a big question mark, Wooldridge said.This may leave us vulnerable to lawsuits. I don't know, Pollock said.Pollock said that the city never should have implemented the value-recapture provision without an ordinance being in place. But he said he was not aware of the Dec. 22 council directive that the new procedures be put into effect. Murray and Wooldridge said they could not recall that December action. Maybe we did this wrong procedurally, Pollock said. Maybe we should pass the ordinance, then go back and look at amending the comp plan if we don't like this new program. "

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