BI church finally sees hope for affordable housing

Bethany Lutheran Church for many years has had a vision to help the affordable housing crisis on Bainbridge Island.

Thanks to a 2019 state law that encourages working with religious organizations to increase affordable housing, it’s now coming into focus.

Jonathan Davis, representing the church, talked about their effort at a recent BI Planning Commission meeting. The commission is reviewing a draft ordinance that amends some city zoning regulations for the church’s pilot project. Davis said the location is ideal. It’s close to 10 schools with connecting trails. It has a park-and-ride so transit can be taken to the ferry.

Davis said the 20-22 two-story homes would have two to four bedrooms each and would have a small footprint of 800 to 1,400 square feet. They would be 100% affordable in perpetuity, for people with incomes 80% or less of the median.

The church had thought of building more homes, but was told by Housing Resources Bainbridge the need for homes for larger families is great. A large parking area and the size of roadside buffers would influence how many homes could be built. Septic capacity also is a factor.

Planning Commissioner Lisa Macchio said she was concerned the plan doesn’t include an exact number of homes. “I understand your need for some wiggle room, but it feels a little uncomfortable,” she said.

Fellow Commissioner Yesh Subramanian worried about “unintended consequences. Did the city think through all the implications?”

Jennifer Sutton, senior planning director, talked about traffic as an example for Subramanian. She said traffic should not be an issue because of the trails, bike lanes and transit in the area. “The site is set up quite well to support people living and getting around to a lot of places without getting into a vehicle,” she said.

Macchio said if that’s the case, maybe there isn’t a need for so much parking. Davis said the church is looking at that as a way to make room for more homes.

Bethany Lutheran owns two properties totaling 8.43 acres bordered by Sportsman Club, High School and Finch roads. Davis said the church envisions no new entrances on the busy roads.

In public comments, Ron Peltier questioned how the development could be built in a conservation area when the city’s Comprehensive Plan encourages preserving such lands. “It’s a very rural-looking property,” he said. “That’s going to be a huge change.”

The city now allows 50% affordable housing density bonus for rentals and homes for the lowest income applicants. The density declines the higher the income. Neighborhood centers, such as Lynwood, Rolling Bay and Island Center, have different ordinances.

The city will create a second draft version for a public hearing Feb. 10.

Puget Sound Energy

PSE is proposing a Comprehensive Plan and Rezone for three of its substations — Port Madison, Murden Cove and Winslow — from Residential to Business/ Industrial.

BI accepts amendments to the Comp Plan every three years. Such amendments are being accepted during the first two months this year.

Power is brought from the Kitsap Peninsula over Agate Pass to the Port Madison substation. It then connects to Murden Cove and Winslow substations. As growth has occurred, PSE’s facilities were upgraded. In 2015 the Port Madison tap line was rebuilt, followed by the same being done at Port Madison.

Meanwhile, PSE is in the process of trying to build a “Missing Link” that it says would reduce the number of power outages on BI. The long process will end up again at the planning commission, followed by a recommendation to and final decision by the City Council.

PSE officials said if the rezone is not approved it would have to find additional property on the island to do the project. It is trying to maximize the property it already has. PSE officials added it’s not expanding any of the substations, except for a self-contained battery that would not be noisy or have any other impacts. And it’s not encroaching on residential neighbors.

During public comments, Kathy Hansen questioned why the substation area is zoned residential at all. And, PSE isn’t planning major changes, she said, and will remove the least number of trees possible and plant new trees to replace them.

Peltier said the city should offer PSE a trade – a zone change in return for fewer trees being cut down.

Additionally at the meeting, the commission elected Sarah Blossom as chair and Ashley Mathews as vice-chair. Also, there are 11 applicants to fill two vacant seats.