'Innovative housing ordinance' gets public hearing Wednesday

The city's proposed Housing Design Demonstration Projects (HDDP) ordinance will be debated at Bainbridge City Hall tonight.

The 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.

"The ordinance promotes a more varied type of home than we have been seeing in the past decade," said city planner Jennifer Sutton. "The end result hopefully will be that the projects are more affordable to a broader range of incomes and it will result in many more green homes on the island."

But to entice developers into the program, the ordinance allows for reductions in setbacks, flexible development standards as well as increased density – up to 2.5 times current zoning regulations outside the mixed-use town center.

Robert Dashiell, a former council candidate, has expressed concern about the scale of density increases and how it will affect the quality of life on the island.

"The No. 1 issue regarding quality of life on the island is density," he said. "The bottom line is, what the public gets out of this is more houses and more cars and little benefit."

HDDP has been hammered out over the past few months, recently undergoing more changes by the Land Use Committee to address how developers can achieve maximum density increases.

The program uses a matrix and point system that awards projects increases in density and floor-area ratio for percentages of affordable housing, achieving environmental standards such as LEED and Built Green, the incorporation of renewable energy such as solar, maintaining pathways and rain gardens.

"There are some good things about the ordinance related to housing that would be built both affordable and gentler on the environment," Dashiell said. "But a lot of that is already being done, and it benefits the people in those houses not the public, because this is growth acceleration."

Previous plans to allow HDDP in the neighborhood service centers of Lynwood, Rolling Bay and Island Center, was rebuffed by citizens who were worried about density increases outside of the city center. Many proponents of HDDP believe they have now struck a positive balance between incentives and requirements.

"There were a lot of people that really expressed concerns about it and I think over time a lot of those concerns were resolved," said Bill Luria, an HDDP proponent and a part-time worker for the Housing Resources Board.

As currently drafted, ordinance would expire after three years and would only apply to the downtown area.

One major project proposed for 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. At least two other developments are also being planned under the terms of the ordinance.

Island architect Charlie Wenzlau said he has begun preliminary work on a project that would focus on the green-building aspects of the ordinance.

He lauded the city's work on the ordinance and what it could mean for future development on the island.

"This ordinance represents a coming together of environmental interests, affordable housing interests and the development community," Wenzlau said. "Any time we talk about density it is a very polarizing topic and this, to me, is one of the first instances I've seen where there has been a coming together of these different view points with support for green housing and affordability."

The HDDP ordinance will be discussed at 6:30 p.m. and 7:40 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall.

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