BI Planning Commission tinkers with design law

The Bainbridge Planning Commission has spent a lot of time on the Housing Design Demonstration Project draft law.

The City Council sent it back to the commission to have it respond to public comments. But they did more than that – tweaking it in a number of areas.

“We love to do more,” Commissioner Lisa Macchio said. “We’re good at what we do. We need this until affordable housing” can be addressed in a larger-scale Housing Action Plan to be worked on by the council.

One of the changes they spent most of their time on was a “loophole” regarding accessory dwelling units, which used to be called mother-in-law housing. While they were coming up with a plan to allow more density for affordable housing projects in the Winslow area, they closed the so-called loophole by deciding, “It should not be counted as affordable housing,” Commissioner Ariel Birtley said of ADUs.

The others agreed. “We should error on the side of more affordable housing,” Commissioner Yesh Subramanian said, meaning ADUs should be a bonus to the bonus.

Commissioner Ben Deines said the area this should be allowed needs to be limited to where city sewer service is at this time. There was some concern that when the sewer area grows so would that density bonus. Subramanian added that ADUs must be affordable. He wanted to make sure the language in the draft law was clear.

Deines said ADUs will add diversity of housing to the island. Birtley said while she favors multi-generation families living together, ADUs do add density. But they will only be in Winslow, where growth is supposed to occur, said Sarah Blossom, commission chair.

“We need to be not so generous that it’s abused,” Subramanian said. Blossom added: “We can allow it in the core, not islandwide. We won’t have sprawl” if we only allow it in Winslow.

Commissioner Ashley Mathews said they were worried about the law being abused, but there is only one project, and maybe another, that is looking at using the law right now for its development. “It’s not a solution” to our lack of affordable housing problem. Blossom added, “It’s not a money maker.”

Subramanian said if they want to attract more density in Winslow maybe the law should be more generous or “builders won’t come to the table.” Deines said maybe the density bonus should be even higher then—from 2 1/2 base density to three. Blossom said while she agreed they needed to send the draft to the council for its decision.

The commission then allowed local architect Charlie Wenzlau to comment by phone. He said he’s worried the draft law was not clear enough for the council to make a quick decision.

Macchio said the HDDP is a stop-gap measure. “We struggle to make this little thing meet all the needs, and it really can’t. But if we’re going to give density it should be to those most in need. I want our community to get affordable housing out of it. I want assurance,” she said.

HDDP has been around almost 13 years. The goal is to increase the variety of housing choices and affordability.

Part of the requirement was having innovative site development projects such as cisterns, green roofs, covered parking, landscaping, common open space, pea patch, car sharing, electric vehicle charging, etc. Because of concerns about those being too costly, the commission voted to waive them if the overall project was 75% affordable. There was talk of making them 100% affordable, but again it was decided that could make the overall project too costly. Parking was reduced from one to .5 spots per unit.