Housing that’s green, affordable and may “forever change Bainbridge”

Poised to move forward with an innovative housing pilot project combining affordability and green design, the City Council on Wednesday opted instead to allow further deliberation, citing concerns that the project may burden Winslow with too much population density.

“Density is a huge issue on the island,” Councilwoman Debbie Vancil said. “None of us wants to take density we can’t handle.”

The proposed Housing Design Demonstration Project is aimed at encouraging earth-friendly affordable housing projects through density bonuses and flexible design standards. The 22-page proposal uses a tiered system to determine a project’s level sustainable design, affordability and the corresponding level of density or design flexibility the city would allow. Recent changes to the project limits it to three years, confines it to the Winslow area and gives the city Design Review Board an expanded role in assessing the project’s developments.

Affordable housing advocates say the project is crucial for moving forward with a 48-unit, green-built housing development planned on a 6.4-acre Ferncliff Avenue property. Architects specializing in sustainable design say the project is on the cutting edge, incorporating new ideas in that could achieve a “net zero” impact on the environment.

But some island residents say the project may crowd too many people downtown, change Winslow’s character, boost crime and draw down the island’s water supply.

“It will forever change Bainbridge,” said Robert Dashiell, a critic of affordable housing efforts.

Housing Resources Board Director Carl Florea said fears of dramatic change are not in- line with the project’s scope.

“Quite frankly, low density in an urban area is not as scary as it sounds,” he said.

Dashiell and Florea were the only two people to comment during the council’s public hearing on the project. The council will send the project back to its Land Use Committee to deliberate on issues raised at the hearing. A second public hearing is slated for July 22.

City Planning Director Kathy Cook said the project’s complexity and the high standards it sets for density bonus awards – which could allow a maximum 2.5 increase in the number of allowable housing units – would greatly limit the number of participating developments.

“I don’t think there would be a huge rush of projects taking advantage of this,” she said. “There are a number of hoops to jump through and issues that have to be addressed. I don’t think it will be at the level people are afraid of.”

Councilwoman Hilary Franz noted that the project’s applicants would likely be limited to non-profit affordable housing organizations like HRB.

Councilman Bill Knobloch echoed concerns that increased density could drain the island’s aquifers.

“When you increase density, you take our most valuable resource,” he said.

Public Works Deputy Director Lance Newkirk stressed that the project “would not have a dramatic impact on our water systems.”

Franz said a higher-density development created under the project would use less water than a conventional development allowed under current zoning.

“If we’re going to give density bonuses, we’re going to get enormous benefit for the community,” she said.

One thought on “Housing that’s green, affordable and may “forever change Bainbridge”

  1. This is an extremely important proposal and I hope it passes. Seattle needs affordable housing and recent zoning changes and development rules have added $200K to the average new home in the city. If we build the housing, Mayor Nichols will be forever grateful and our proposal may only add $150K or so to the non-affordable units in each high density subdivision.

    I hear that the super-majority of our council members (including our X-mayor) are planning to buy some of the unaffordable units to help subsidize the Seattle families that will move here to occupy the affordable ones. It’s a win-win for everybody. Job well done!

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