Planning commission studies Kirkland for strategies on affordable housing


August 9, 2023

At first glance, comparing La Conner and Kirkland is akin to apples and oranges.

But when it comes to affordable housing incentives, it is a comparison that might bear fruit.

Planning department staff shared with the La Conner Planning Commission during their July meeting at Maple Hall research into how Kirkland, a Seattle suburb of nearly 100,000 people, has sought to increase its stock of affordable housing.

Assistant Planner Ajah Eills provided a seven-page report on how La Conner might implement some of the measures adopted in Kirkland.

“La Conner,” Eills noted, “is in an interesting position when it comes to incentivizing affordable housing.”

By that, she meant La Conner has geographic features far different than those in Kirkland.

The report notes that “the majority of the town is in the flood plain, which can make it difficult to receive housing specific federal grant money. The majority of the affordable housing created in La Conner has been through local organizations, such as Skagit Home Trust and local Habitat for Humanity groups. It may be valuable to discuss what meaningful housing incentives would look like to groups such as these, to ensure that the incentives La Conner chooses to implement are effective.”

In Kirkland, inclusionary zoning has been adopted. It requires all developments over four units located in certain zones must provide some affordable units.

La Conner has three different residential zone densities. Kirkland defines over 20 zones.

But La Conner could still develop incentives and draft codes encouraging affordable housing, according to the planners’ report.

The planners’ report outlines incentives and draft codes for encouraging affordable housing,

Working with Skagit County officials on pre-approved building plans for a variety of housing sizes, reducing planning department and infrastructure charges based on the percentage of affordable housing units developed on a property, streamlining the permit process and reducing parking restrictions on a case-by-case basis are options.

Planning Director Davolio acknowledged that incentivizing affordable housing cannot merely reflect what has been done in the King County suburbs.

“Kirkland has a larger planning staff, more land and more people,” he told commissioners. “We have a whole different set of challenges.”

Commissioner Marna Hanneman, a former Kirkland resident, concurred.

“I know the council and planning commission (in Kirkland) worked real hard on their plan,” Hanneman said. “We, as La Connerites, have to be careful to come up with what fits best here. We have to be very diligent as to how we approach this.”

Hanneman said the trick is to strike a balance between a wide range of community needs – from affordable housing to open space to public parks.

Davolio told commissioners that the Town has received a state grant to hire a consultant to develop a plan for utilizing La Conner’s south end waterfront area, including the former Moore-Clark property and the iconic “Old Blue” building that has stood vacant for decades since British Petroleum closed the local fish feed plant and moved operations to Vancouver, B.C.

Some seven feet of the dilapidated warehouse is on the Town’s south First Street right-of-way. The building has been cordoned off with fencing for public safety.

Longtime resident Marilyn Thostenson suggested that commissioners review the history of the Moore-Clark property, specifically proposals submitted a generation ago by Vaughn Jolly and Larry Wilman for multi-use development on the site.

“It was really exciting at the time,” she recalled. “It was controversial. You had naysayers and those in favor. It really has an interesting history.”

Davolio said he had spoken with the developer of the 306 Center Street project and has been told that an architect is in the process of drafting a plan for the proposed three-story multi-residential building. Town council earlier this month approved the Talmon Project infrastructure plan.

In addition, Eills said she plans meeting with La Conner High School students in September to gather their input for the ongoing comprehensive plan update.


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