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RentalIt’s been six months since the Bainbridge City Council voted to develop the Suzuki property with an emphasis on affordable housing, and picked Olympic Property Group as the developer. With the housing crisis raging on throughout the Puget Sound region (see, e.g., here, here, and here, and the island’s Housing Needs Assessment, here), Bainbridge Island has made little progress toward easing its affordability problems.  And that lack of progress comes after more than a decade of inattention, as I wrote in March, when I noted that since 2003, the island has increased its income-qualified affordable housing stock by only 66 units.

But maybe there’s some good news after all. While progress on the Suzuki property has been bogged down in the particulars of an ecological study, the drafters of the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update have done some promising work of their own.

The drafting committee has come up with concrete programs with a track record for helping to alleviate the housing cost burdens embedded in a community where the median single-family home price exceeds $750,000 and rental vacancies are near zero.

Among the ideas: amend the City’s development rules to encourage innovation such as tiny houses, micro units and cottage housing; expand opportunities for infill in Winslow and the Neighborhood Centers; and allow the creation of small lots and smaller footprint homes.

One idea in the draft Comp Plan has been especially popular in other communities: the Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Established by state statute, this program allows local governments to exempt multi-family housing developments from property tax for 12 years if at least 20% of the units are rent-restricted for income-qualifying tenants. This program has been adopted by cities across Washington, both large—Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue—and small—Bellingham, Moses Lake, Yakima, Shoreline, Bremerton. (more…)

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I received this letter yesterday, in response to my post “Fair housing or fair weather ideals?” The writer teaches English, film studies and composition at Bainbridge High School.

Hi Althea,

I just read your article on affordable housing and the Suzuki property and wanted to thank you for raising such an important issue

If you are interested, there is another side / consequence to the lack of affordable housing on Bainbridge–a significantly diminished ability to attract and retain teachers and administrators for Bainbridge schools.

The school board recently repealed the requirement that administrators have to live on the island. While that’s both a compromise and a recognition of our housing problem, it’s certainly not a solution.

Other organizations such as the Housing Resources Board and the Marguerite Foundation make laudable efforts to address this issue. Unfortunately their income and experience rules often wind up excluding more experienced teachers.

This is an issue that’s both immediate and near and dear to my heart. Last year, my wife and I divorced. I was lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment I could afford on Bainbridge so that I could stay near my three children. When my kids come over, they sleep on air mattresses in the crowded living room. It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work for the past year. However, a couple of months ago, I found out that my landlord intends to sell the apartment at the end of my lease. As you are probably aware, while the housing market is tight on the island, the rental market is even tighter. After going through the loss of my rental myself and seeing it happen to two close friends, I decided it was time to stop renting and start shopping for a house.

Despite having lived and taught in this community for 11 years, despite being at the top of my pay scale with zero debt and a credit score in the 800s, I, as a single teacher, literally cannot afford to buy a house in the community I call home. I’ve done everything I can short of working a second job–and there are many teachers who do just that in order to make ends meet. I’ve pursued and received my National Boards endorsement, I advise an after school club. For years, I served as department head. Despite these pursuits, I simply don’t make enough to afford even a modest house on the island. Consequently I am moving to Poulsbo in two weeks. (more…)

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Last night the four proposals for the Suzuki property debuted before the Council and a good sized crowd at City Hall. The written proposals have been available on the City’s website for weeks, but this was the first of the scheduled three public meetings to review the proposals. Each applicant had a half-hour for an oral presentation, followed by questions from Council members. At times the presentations sounded like oral term papers, where presenters made sure to highlight all the required elements of the assignment: Mixed housing, green construction, affordability, open space, community gardens, buffers, connectivity, safe routes to school, compatibility with neighborhood character, experienced development team. Check, check and check.

Oh yes, and a decent offering price. Presenters did not talk much about their offers for the land, other than to note that the price might have to be adjusted if significant traffic mitigation or other plan modification was required by the City. Offers ranged from zero to $2.6 million.

First up was the Bainbridge Parks Department. Board president Tom Swolgaard devoted less than ten minutes to the very simple proposal: if the City gives the land to the Parks Department, the use of the land will be determined by a community planning process, similar to that being used for the recently acquired Sakai property. Swolgaard said Parks’ interest in the property arose because the department had been asked by various members of the community to submit a proposal. But, he said, they are “not proposing any specific use at this time.”

The Parks Department is offering only a transfer of the property, with no payment, on the theory that the same taxpayers fund both the City and the Parks Department.

The Parks proposal is here.

Next was a presentation by Blue Architecture. Theirs was the only proposal that provided for permanent affordability for all housing on the property. The Blue plan calls for clustered housing, surrounding a grassy courtyard, on the flatter portion of the property, on the north-eastern side. The presenter, architect Bob Guyt, said Blue’s proposal had the smallest footprint of any of the housing proposals. Much of the property would be left in its natural state, perhaps with a system of trails running through it, which could be deeded back to the City or the school district. Only a third of the site would be developed, and 75% of the land would be open space. The pond would be undisturbed, as would the old growth trees on site. (more…)

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The City of Bainbridge Island is hosting a series of public meetings to review and discuss the four proposals for the use of the city-owned Suzuki property.

According to a city press release:

“The first meeting will occur on Tuesday, January 26, at 7:00 p.m. in the Council Chamber, and will be a three-hour special study session of the City Council. Each applicant will have the opportunity to give a half hour presentation, followed by approximately fifteen minutes for questions from Councilmembers. This meeting is open to the public and will be televised, but public comment will not be taken that evening.

“The second meeting will be held on Tuesday, February 9, in the Council Chamber, and will include both an open house and presentation component. The Open House will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will be an opportunity for community members to visit with the applicants in a less formal setting. At 7:00 p.m. each applicant will give a fifteen minute formal presentation. After the presentations, there will be a question and answer period moderated by the City’s Community Engagement Specialist. The meeting will conclude with another short Open House segment to allow for additional conversation with the applicants. (more…)

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After the Marysville-Pilchuk school shooting last week, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat wrote a column calling for criminal penalties for adult gun owners who leave a gun unsecured, if a child under sixteen harms someone with the gun.

Of course he caused a storm of emotion on both “sides” of the gun argument. This morning there are 559 comments on his article, most passionate, angry and one-sided.

Each time a child finds a gun and shoots someone, whether accidentally or intentionally, both sides go to the media and yell at each other. The gun rights camp usually argues that responsible gun owners don’t leave their guns around, their kids know damn well not to touch them without adult supervision and the real crime would be punishing responsible gun owners for the stupidity of a few bad parents. The gun safety crowd has multiple arguments about sensible regulation, which boil down to “…if one person can be saved by a new law, it will be worth it.”

It’s hard to know if one person can be saved by a change in the law. The gun lobby has effectively used this lack of certainty to argue that nothing should be done.

In my opinion, the decision to adopt reasonable regulation should be less about proof and statistics–which can be manipulated by both sides–and more about common sense and life experience.

My experience as a mom showed me that even the most ardent anti-gun parents can’t control what their children encounter. When our kids were little, there were no guns in our home and we gave plenty of lectures about gun safety. Imagine my surprise when I found a handgun on a closet shelf in my fourth-grader’s room. Turns out a little buddy of his snuck a BB gun into a backpack for a sleepover at our house and forgot to bring it home with him. As my parental inquiry went deeper, I learned that, unbeknownst to me, the kids had been shooting at boxes at the friend’s house during after-school play dates.

Boys, right? (more…)

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imagesUpdated at the end of the post:

Denise Garcia, the tireless and awesome Bainbridge ambassador to Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense-WA, sent a note this morning about last night’s city council action on a resolution to support I-594.

“Just a quick email to let you all know about last night’s vote,” she wrote. “We had about a dozen Moms members in the chamber and two of us spoke.

“The council voted 6-1 to approve the resolution supporting I-594! Dave Ward’s was the lone dissenting vote. Bainbridge Island now officially joins Mercer Island in this important endorsement!”

Garcia quoted Mayor Anne Blair as saying, “Please extend my appreciation to the whole crew of folks who support this effort and encouraged, urged, pushed and cheered us on as we voted last night. Onward we go – now to get voters across the state to follow this pattern!” (more…)

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You’ll have another chance to weigh in about marijuana regulation on Bainbridge Island at the April 28 City Council study session at City Hall. At that meeting, the Council will discuss a proposed ordinance governing marijuana growing, processing and retail sale.

Although a majority of the members of the Planning Commission have recommended that marijuana farms and indoor grows be allowed in residential neighborhoods (with significant restrictions, including setbacks, screens and size of plant canopy), a minority of Planning Commission members have filed a dissenting report. That report asked the Council not to allow marijuana growing in residential zones.

Public comment at the April 28 meeting begins at 7 pm. A final public hearing is tentatively scheduled for May 12 at 7 pm. You can email written comments until 4 pm on April 23, to pcd@bainbridgewa.gov. Even if you miss that deadline, you can still submit comments until the final public hearing.

You can read the draft ordinance here: 040714 Att A 4 3 Draft Ordinance 2014-06 MJ (more…)

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