BI affordable housing draft to be ‘jello soft’

City staff is working on a “jello soft” ordinance regarding affordable housing.

Many ideas were brought up at Tuesday night’s Bainbridge City Council meeting. So much so that city manager Blair King used that phrase to describe that whatever staff brings back will have wiggle room.

King said he had been concerned that the council would have seven different proposals, so he was glad there seemed to be some consensus on each affordable housing proposal being “site specific.”

At the other end, Councilmember Leslie Schneider said she was “disappointed” in the meeting and wondered, “What was accomplished?” She hopes staff will come up with a number of options “we chose not to deal with tonight.”

Deputy mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson took a more optimistic view. “Everybody wants affordable houising. We’re all on the same side here.”

The council voted to get public input at an upcoming meeting then take it back to another study session to “wrestle with it there,” Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said.

Like unset gelatin, the discussion was all over the place. In general, it was regarding a state law that allows bonus density for affordable housing done by religious organizations—in this case Bethany Lutheran Church.

Some of the discussion was about the state law, which has been challenged as being unconstitutional.

A few councilmembers said that issue could be solved by coming up with a law that would be islandwide and available to anyone wanting to develop affordable housing.

“I would support an islandwide ordinance,” Fantroy-Johnson said.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki agreed, saying it’s not good policy to have project-specific laws. “That would be problematic down the road,” he said. “We would miss an opportunity to have that same kind of project” if it was only for religious organizations. If such projects were open to “other, like-minded civic people,” that would protect the city from being criticized for favoring religious groups.

In contrast, Councilmember Jon Quitslund said the city could never arrive at an islandwide policy that suits all developments, but they could “set the parameters.”

Councilmember Michael Pollock said to deal with all of the possibilities, “Why not incorporate this as part of a conditional use permit? That would be the judicious way to go.”

Schneider said she doesn’t like the idea of a pilot project for Bethany, and it’s clear the proposal needs to be islandwide and whatever they decide is precedent setting. But she agreed all sites are not equal so they cannot treat them the same. A site plan would be needed.

Hytopoulos disagreed, saying they should see how the Bethany project works, then incorporate the ordinance islandwide if it is successful. “We are experimenting. If we don’t like the outcome we can change it. Learn from it.” She said the issue is so complex it would be hard to come up with something that could work islandwide. “I’m not even sure if it could be done. It absolutely must be site specific.”

Pollock agreed, saying they could work “out the kinks without being an islandwide policy.”

Planning commission

The issue is so controversial that even after eight meetings the BI Planning Commission split on a vote 3-3.

The commission asked the council to answer three questions: Should the ordinance apply island-wide or as a pilot project only to Bethany? How much bonus density should be allowed? Is this ordinance setting a precedent?

Planning Commissioners Sarah Blossom and Ariel Birtley explained why the vote was split.

Blossom, the commission chair, said the draft decision was close to unanimous, but they were stuck on a few areas. “It was not a good use of our time without further direction” from council.

They also had various opinions about density. They discussed a base zone compiled from other developments nearby with more density possible if there was green building or building on a site that already has had construction. They discussed how long the homes would need to be affordable, and decided “as long as possible,” although there are some drawbacks to that. She also said while green building sounds great, it is “expensive and hard to make it affordable.”

Blossom said the council needs to be careful if it decides on an islandwide law because the city needs to retain the ability to be site specific. Sites closer to dense development should be allowed more bonus density, for example, than sites in all wooded areas that are not close to town.

Birtley said the three planning commissioners who disagreed with the draft ordinance did not want to disrupt the natural area of the Bethany property. She said it would allow an upzone in a conservation area.

She held up a bird’s feather to symbolize the animals that need protection and “do not have a voice.”

Birtley said it doesn’t have to be “either/or.” There can be both nature and affordable housing. “Both are vitally important.” She said the draft law does not move the issue of affordable housing forward on BI.

The three dissenters want some things included in the ordinance, such as: utilities readily available; support cottage development with clustering and common areas; incentives for green building and reduced parking; and make the process open to all so other organizations can benefit.


The church owns two properties totaling 8.43 acres located in a triangle with High School Road to the north, Sportsman Club Road to the east and Finch Road to the west. It is zoned for four dwelling units. The Planning Commission came up with a formula for 21, after the church had said it could hold as many as 24. Maximum size per home would be 1,400 square feet.

Low-income affordable housing means tenants are at or below 80% of the area median income, and can pay up to 30% of their monthly income for housing.

It is undetermined what type of housing it would be and if units would be sold or rented.

A draft city ordinance encourages affordable housing partnering with nonprofits; the need for such housing; a variety of housing choices; two units per acre; 99 years affordable; parking decided by transportation study; units must meet green building certification; and 5% community space in said development.