Planning Commission hears high-density housing options
July 26, 2023
Tiny houses were a big topic at the La Conner Town Planning Commission meeting July 18.
Planning Director Michael Davolio shared a revised draft proposal that would amend Town regulations to allow high density residential development as a conditional use with commissioners at their hybrid meeting in Maple Hall. The amendment is in response to developer Greg Ellis wanting to site 44 tiny home units on Whatcom and Washington streets behind Pioneer Market. It will be considered separately.
He said he will continue tweaking the draft proposal and offer revisions in August.
Ellis attended the 75-minute meeting. He said he has shifted from building regular-sized dwellings to tiny homes due to market conditions and to provide a more affordable housing option in La Conner.
“I had houses for sale there that were approved,” Ellis reminded commissioners. “I was unable to sell one house. I tried. I designed seven houses there.”
Staff will determine placement and wording in the code.
“We wouldn’t be amending the code,” commissioner Summer Holt said midway through the discussion. “We’d be adding a new definition to the code. We’d be adding a definition for high density residential units.”
Davolio stressed that the proposal’s draft requires applicants to obtain a conditional use permit prior to development. “It can be done in any residential zone in town provided it’s approved,” he explained.
Second Street resident Jean Wharton offered several cautionary notes. As the comprehensive plan is updated, housing for families and protection and preservation of trees should be emphasized, she said.
“We’re in deep, serious trouble,” she said. “When the Town says it wants to plan for the next 20, 30, 40 years, it’s ludicrous if you don’t protect trees.”
Wharton was critical of restrictions preventing the Town from addressing ivy-engulfed and diseased trees on private property.
“Heat isn’t private,” she said. “Carbon isn’t private. I want the Town to look into ways water can be given to trees even on private property. She would like to see trees included as part of the landscape approved for all new construction.
Assistant Planner Ajah Eills said the parks commission is committed to planting trees along Center and Morris streets.
“I agree with you,” Eills assured Wharton. “Carbon and heat aren’t private.”
Wharton urged commissioners to consider the plight of La Conner Schools, facing a decline in student enrollment and state funding support resulting in painful staff and program cutbacks.
“The school district is in trouble,” Wharton said. “When you’re considering this, think of families with children.”
Davolio suggested that high-density housing be limited to short-term rentals to spaces abutting commercial zones.
Holt said residents are leery of having short-term rentals in neighborhoods, especially if high-density housing was also included. Some have told her they fear short-term rentals can negatively impact the fabric and makeup of neighborhoods while reducing an already limited local housing stock.
“They want to keep it in the commercial zone,” she said, “as it is presently. Commercial with short-term rentals is perfectly acceptable.”
Commissioner Marna encourages the housing dialogue.
“Personally, I think it’s a really good start,” she said.