This tale of two cities centers on density | Letters | Aug. 7
August 6, 2009 · 3:31 PM
Two islands, and two radically different approaches to affordable housing. On Orcas Island, they use no local public tax money, depending primarily on local donations and state and federal grants. Since their population is one-third of Bainbridge’s size, land and housing prices are higher, and they are far more remote and therefore have a greater need to house lower-income people on the island. How did they do it using largely public donations?
Their first project was located near Eastsound, involving a seven-acre tract. If my notes are correct, the land was zoned four houses per acre, so they could have built 28 houses and complied with existing zoning.
Instead, they built 18 small houses – five two story, 13 one story. All look different, but they have a general historical theme, much like the historic houses on Ericksen or Blakely Harbor. Each house has a small yard and is landscaped for privacy, and they incorporated a playground and perhaps the single greatest selling point – a community garden. They have not only flowers and vegetables, but they also allow critters like ducks and chickens. It’s a daily community meeting place for all ages, and it’s absolutely wonderful.
The community saw how well this project fit into the neighborhood and reflected the island’s rural values, and local donations poured in. They now are completing their 94th affordable house.
Compare that to Bainbridge and the approach to affordable housing this city has opted to take.
On Aug. 12, the City Council will pass the Innovative Housing Ordinance. One tier of this ordinance has been crafted to allow 48 living units on six acres of gifted Ferncliff property, which is currently zoned for 21 houses. The ordinance is specifically crafted so they can build up to two and a half times existing zoning density.
At its last meeting, the council voted $100,000 in public money as seed money to develop the higher-density project.
The different approaches are dramatic; Orcas is low-density affordable housing and without using local taxes; Bainbridge is opting for high density and the city is helping pay the way.
Since increased population density is the highest community value (March 2008 survey) that threatens the quality of life on Bainbridge, I feel both the Community Land Trust and the City Council have gone down the wrong path to getting more affordable housing on Bainbridge. There is a better way.