ANOTHER LOT BITES THE DUST – Greg Ellis has plans for six homes on this property at the corner of Whatcom and Washington streets. The town’s planning commission were not ready to say go ahead Sept. 21. Ellis has homework and another meeting to attend with them in October. 	                                                                                                                                            – Photo by Ken Stern
ANOTHER LOT BITES THE DUST – Greg Ellis has plans for six homes on this property at the corner of Whatcom and Washington streets. The town’s planning commission were not ready to say go ahead Sept. 21. Ellis has homework and another meeting to attend with them in October. – Photo by Ken Stern

Greg Ellis is going back to the drawing board. 

The La Conner Planning Commission has asked him to do so. 

The five-member advisory panel, in a unanimous vote last Tuesday, Sept. 21, required the veteran home designer and builder to return Oct. 19 with more detailed plans of the housing development he intends siting off Whatcom and Washington streets behind Pioneer Market. 

Ellis, owner of Holistic Development & Consulting, appeared before the commission via Zoom during a one-hour historic design review public hearing. 

He was seeking approval of what Ellis termed “a beach cottage-feel project” featuring renovation and expansion of an existing residence and construction of five individually designed homes supported by a soft look of gravel driveways, parking and walking areas complete with edible landscaping such as fruit trees, berries and space for a vegetable garden. 

But commissioners wanted to see more. As in more specificity. 

“I would like to see more details, especially in the site plan,” commissioner Rick Dole, who has a civil engineering background, said near the end of the hearing. “I’m not completely satisfied with the actual site plan. I just can’t get past the lack of detail.” 

Town Planner Michael Davolio, in his staff report, noted that Ellis has provided exterior elevations for the proposed homes, but hasn’t indicated for which lots those designs will be used. The designs also leave open the option of adding Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), he said. 

Ellis, who contended several times that his project complies with Town standards, nevertheless vowed to meet the commission’s mandate prior to his second go-around next month. 

“I will get you much more information for the next meeting,” said Ellis. “I’ll have it to you long before then.” 

Ellis told commissioners his intent is to build homes on the site that are “affordable for families, functional and beautiful for the neighborhood.” 

“I don’t want to do anything wild and crazy, nothing that’s offensive to neighbors,” Ellis, who said he has designed 55 homes and built 300 residences over a four-decade career, assured commissioners. “My goal is to create an affordable, low-impact development. 

“I’m working on bigger projects now,” he added, “but I love La Conner. I want to do a great job with the project.” 

Commission member Marna Hanneman asked Ellis to define “affordable” in terms of the La Conner housing market. 

“My hope when I bought the land,” Ellis said, “was to have houses in the 500s, but costs have gone up since then.” 

Ellis is required to obtain an historic design review permit since his application involves construction and renovation work within the town’s historic preservation district. 

Hanneman indicated the commission is proceeding cautiously given fallout from the rezone and sale of the former Hedlin’s Maple Avenue property earlier this year. That nearly two-acre site is being converted from youth playfields to a residential development and public park space. 

“We’ve just gone through a very sensitive issue in town with the Hedlin’s ballfield,” she said. “I don’t want to make a decision and have people go by there and say: ‘what the hell is the Town doing.’ It’s as simple as that.” 

La Conner resident and innkeeper John Durgin, while expressing interest in purchasing one of Ellis’ lots, suggested the developer’s building designs pay greater homage to the Victorian style homes atop nearby Whitney Hill as a means of maintaining consistency and compatibility with the neighborhood. 

“Fitting in with the rest of the neighborhood is what I’m concerned with,” Durgin said. 

Ellis said that flood plain requirements applicable to his low-lying lots downhill from the crest of Washington Street would drive construction of Victorian style homes there outside the affordable price range. 

Ellis praised La Conner as a “great location for people to live and work and get their needs met.” 

Hanneman, describing herself as a commission “old-timer,” concurred, while stressing that the planning board must do its due diligence on the Ellis application to assure those local quality of life factors remain in place. 

“In the past,” she said, “people have come in with detailed architectural plans. I’m a visual person. I need details and I don’t think we have them.” 

She wasn’t alone in taking that view. 

“I’m not inclined at this point,” said commission chair Bruce Bradburn, “to give a blanket endorsement to a whole group of houses.” 

The commission agreed to have an Oct. 5 special meeting to address proposed updates to the La Conner municipal code and parks and recreation element of the Town Comprehensive Plan.