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Innovative housing ordinance receives first public dress-down

Council members recommend that the ordinance be restricted for its trial run

Offer up an ordinance that increases density, and you are bound to get some heated public comment.

The city's Housing Design Demonstration Projects (HDDP) ordinance, also known as the Innovative Housing Ordinance, aims to promote "green" housing and building, affordable homes and a diversity of housing options in new island developments. But to entice developers into the program, the ordinance allows for reductions in setbacks and parking requirements as well as increased density – up to 2.5 times current zoning regulations outside the mixed-use town center.

One major project on Ferncliff Avenue – the Housing Resources Board's planned 48-unit affordable housing complex on a 6.2 acre parcel – is an example of how HDDP will be used in the future.

But, when the city's Planning Commission recommended the ordinance be applied to the neighborhood service centers (NSCs) of Rolling Bay, Island Center and Lynwood Center, residents pushed back.

Of all the NSCs, only Lynwood has the sewer infrastructure to support increased density, council members noted at Tuesday's Land Use Committee. And a handful of south-end residents have spoken out in recent weeks against HDDP expansion into their neighborhoods.

Many feel the creation of the Pleasant Beach sewer on the south end five years ago is being used as a justification for increased density in developments in an area that is already seeing a boom in new construction.

"One of the main oppositions to bringing sewer to the Pleasant Beach neighborhood was that it was going to add increased density," said Pleasant Beach resident and sewer proponent Julie Schulte. "We assured the community members on the south end and members of council and city staff that we didn't have to worry about increased growth and increased pressure on our streets."

Others expressed more overarching skepticism of the proposal, including island real estate agent Marilyn McLauchlan.

"This has been deemed a demonstration project," she said. "There are some cool things in it, things that sound great, but the project recommends too many incentives to builders. I don't think they need those incentives," she said. "Many (goals of the ordinance) are the way of the future [and] that is the way the pendulum has already swung."

HDDP rewards developers on a 100-point scale for including affordable housing, environmental building standards, open space and amenities that promote alternative transportation – among a host of other things in their developments.

Bainbridge City Council members on the Land Use Committee concurred with south-end residents and put forward a recommendation that HDDP only be applied in the downtown area for the time being. The recommendation will ensure the ordinance's trial status and will quell arguments against HDDP, which could delay its implementation.

"Its always been a pilot project, so we're not recommending it be applied more broadly," said council member Debbie Vancil. "We want to get it started and we want to get it started now."

The Land Use Committee also recommended that the ordinance sunset after three years, instead of the previously recommended four-year trial period.

Jeb Thornburg, an architect who owns developable property in the Lynwood area, was disappointed with the committee's recommendation, but understands there should be steps before broader implementation of the HDDP ordinance.

"I'm hopeful (HDDP) we'll succeed and that the projects are positive additions to Winslow," he said. "Because of that, people will be more supportive of extending it in the future in other areas."

Thornburg also understands community concerns about density and development, but feels that HDDP will work as it is designed – to facilitate more dense, walkable communities that will reduce the need for cars and encourage public transit.

"I would like to understand how HDDP will offer us the option to incorporate sustainable designs and LEED standards, pervious pavements and rain gardens (in developments)," Thornburg said. "But there is a cost associated with that. The carrot is the possibility for some increased density, and the increase is the hot-button issue. That is the thing that raises people's greatest concern."

The operators of South Bainbridge Water and Island Utilities also spoke against expanding the ordinance, stating their views that the United States Geological Survey's aquifer study should be completed before such developments are considered on the island.

"I looked at this on the whole and I think they should keep it off-island entirely," said Scott Shelton, of Island Utilities. "While density sounds great, I think they are doing a disservice to the rest of the taxpayers to just go pell-mell without keeping track of the big picture, which could have dire consequences."

Council members reiterated that they, and the community, will be keeping a close eye on how the ordinance is used by developers.

"This is an ordinance that has to be closely watched and monitored," said council member Bill Knobloch. "It is a large up-zone and we are going to see what works and what doesn't."

If HDDP projects being planned for Ferncliff Avenue and the corner of Wyatt Way and Madison Avenue are successful, the council will again look to see whether the ordinance should be expanded to NSCs around the island.

"That is one of the things this pilot project will teach us," Vancil said. "How to apply it in the NSCs. It doesn't mean we won't have this kind of opportunity in the future, just not as part of this pilot project."

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