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May 23, 2019

4/24/2019 12:35:00 PM
Increased housing density Town's focus

The La Conner planning commission met with the Town Council as the last segment of Council’s April 9 meeting to discuss 2019 priorities, as they do annually. Initial topics were updates of the transportation element of the Town’s comprehensive plan, the critical areas ordinance and placing the park’s plan update as a comprehensive plan element.
Councilmember Jacques Brunisholz asked about the dike. Planning Director Marianne Manville-Ailes responded that “concrete steps would go to the planning department” and not involve the planning commission.
Manville-Ailes noted the 2017 climate change charrette and report on the flooding impact in the town has been helpful. Creating a design competition for solutions to flooding in the historical district will come next. She shared that Skagit County has two design interns who will assist with a design of Gilkey Square.
The major discussion was on increasing affordable housing and density, which Councilmember Mary Wohleb called her “hot button,” noting when she has talked with people the issue of large town lots has come up and “having mom move in.”
Manville-Ailes told Council that La Conner was progressive and ahead of cities such as Mount Vernon, though more policy and code updates are needed. She pointed to removing the ADU requirement for property owners of two lots to live in one the units. She noted the challenge of retrofitting“beautiful old buildings” in the housing stock.
Hayes brought up “density bonuses” that would exclude people’s age but include their wages and the size of the housing unit. The planning commission will be discussing other alternatives to increase density.
Brunisholz pointed that “the market” – with few rules – is beyond Council’s control. Manville-Ailes said to think in terms of infrastructure, that while 1,200 house is the Town’s cap for housing, 385 exist now. Besides room for growth, careful planning will shape development.
Councilmember Bill Stokes suggested a large development might happen. Manville-Ailes responded that infrastructure costs would have to be offset.
Manville-Ailes brought up view corridors, reminding Council that the proposed Lighthouse Restaurant showed the need for a clear public process.
In wrapping up, Manville-Ailes said the planning process would be ongoing and the planning commission had “a real desire to embrace some of these more innovative approaches.”
Hayes shared an anecdote of a young family moving to La Conner, with the husband telecommunicating and only driving to Seattle for work occasionally. He expressed his excitement for creating solutions that would address the changing nature of work and his satisfaction with Council “being on the same page with density,”
Planning Commissioners Marna Hanneman, Carol Hedlin and Liz Theaker were present. Bruce Bradburn joined by phone. All five Councilmembers and Mayor Hayes participated. Their meeting ran 44 minutes.

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