Code has to support the bigger plan
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:13 PM
"Where was the city attorney?Even at $200 an hour, it only would have cost the city council about five bucks last week for a quick legal opinion on making the city code conform to the policies set out in the Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan.Here's our advice, for free: The code must support the plan. Period.As reported Saturday and followed up in today's edition, the council finds itself in a bind after defeating an ordinance that would have allowed the resale of affordable homes at market rates after five years (the old restriction, 30 years, was seen as a disincentive to investment by aspiring homeowners). Reminded that in defeating the ordinance by a 4-3 vote, they were reversing their own policy set nine months earlier - established both in a comprehensive plan amendment and a resolution - some council members (mid-term) pleaded short memories, others (new) ignorance.Now, we concede that allowing market-rate resale of for-purchase affordable homes after five years seems counter-intuitive - some subdivisions will get minor density increases, with no guarantee that the island's stock of new affordable housing will remain so over time. But if a 30-year proviso hobbles the construction and sale of cheaper homes to begin with, who exactly does that serve?That's exactly what local housing advocates noted, and what city planners set out to fix last year with the council's blessing - twice. But given the renewed, meandering debate and sudden about-face, it's apparent that many on the council aren't bothering to do their homework. And caught in the middle are those at both ends of transactions involving affordable homes now in the works.There is always a temptation - exhibited by, but certainly not unique to, new council members - to revisit every stray issue that comes down the pike, particularly when one perceives a mandate from constituents to come in and shake things up a bit. Fortunately, it's an inclination that usually goes away after the first year or so in office. That's why the council doesn't, say, impose a storm drain fee, repeal it two years later when an election changes the council dynamic, then impose it again two years later when the majority swings back in the other direction. Comprehensive planning policies are by nature intended to steer the city for the long-term; revisiting them endlessly leaves the council chasing its collective tail, to the exclusion of current matters. Sometimes - particularly important on a council will little or no institutional memory - it takes the administration, staff and city attorney to nudge the council back in the right direction. And it takes some grace on the part of the council to listen.Either way, last week's gaffe needs to be fixed. A comprehensive plan that isn't supported by its own ordinances isn't worth the binder it fills. "