A fire, a jump and a debate over housing

Here’s a few recent Bainbridge news items:

A north-end home was gutted on Thursday afternoon. Old wiring may be the cause, according to the home’s owner. Read my story here, and see more photos on my Picasa page.

A 35-year-old man, distraught over the loss of his job, jumped from the Agate Pass Bridge on Friday. Read the Sun’s coverage here.

The city Planning Commission heard some emotional comments from residents about the revamped affordable housing ordinance. Read my coverage of the Thursday evening meeting below.

A draft plan for a new affordable housing ordinance drew an emotional and mixed response from residents during a city Planning Commission meeting on Thursday.

Aimed at increasing housing options for low and middle-income people, the proposed ordinance would require developers to incorporate below-market-rate units in new housing projects or pay a fee to support other affordable housing efforts. It would also allow developers to add an additional market-rate unit for each affordable unit created.

Housing advocates and would-be homebuyers said the ordinance is integral to preserving social diversity on the high-priced island.

“I hope to own a home…to have a sense of groundedness and rootedness in my community,” said longtime islander and housing advocate Kate Smith, who is raising two children in a rented home. “I don’t know if I have the heart anymore to stand in the face of the opposition to what I consider a social justice issue.”

Winslow landowner Gayle Seyl said the ordinance, along with other development restrictions and rising property taxes, will greatly restrict her income.

“You’re making it so I have nothing, nothing to sell,” Seyl said as she fought back tears. “I’ll be one of the people begging for affordable housing.”

The proposed ordinance would require that new housing developments of five or more units include an additional 15 percent for affordable housing if the units are for sale and 10 percent if they are for rent. Mixed-use developments that include over 6,000-square-feet of floor space in the Winslow area would need to provide an additional 15 percent for low-cost homes or 10 percent for low-cost rentals.

The construction of affordable units would make developers eligible for a density bonus, allowing the construction of an additional market-rate unit for each affordable unit provided.

Developers could pay a fee in-lieu of building affordable units to the city’s Housing Trust Fund, which supports affordable housing acquisition and planning efforts.

The ordinance would establish a requirement that affordable housing buyers or tenants make less than 120 percent of the area’s median income, as calculated by the federal government.

In a hypothetical assessment based on the island’s development history, the ordinance would have created about 122 units over a recent seven-year period, according to city staff.

An earlier affordable housing ordinance was repealed in December 2004 following criticism that it was ineffective and prone to legal challenge.

The city has been without affordable housing requirements for the last four years as a new ordinance was drafted.

Some island residents believe the affordable housing requirements will lead to homes and neighborhoods not in-keeping with Bainbridge values or aesthetics.

During the meeting, resident Robert Dashiell presented photos of affordable housing developments on Orcas Island. The photos depicted sheds, on-street parking, open air storage of residents possessions and homes he described as having low quality construction.

“When you have affordable housing, the problem is you have small houses and no garages,” he said, arguing that residents will store items in sheds and their vehicles outdoors. “How’s that going to look and fit in?”

Showing a photo of a backyard shed, Dashiell said, “You’re going to have a proliferation of these all around the neighborhoods.”

Other meeting attendees defended the draft ordinance as a low-cost solution to the island’s housing challenges.

“This ordinance really creates affordable housing in that it has the market take care of it rather than the taxpayer,” said island business owner Els Heyne.

Once approved by the Planning Commission, the draft ordinance will go before the City Council for final approval.