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Opportunities for building in the new year

From the editor

New Town of La Conner Mayor Marna Hanneman chaired her first town council meeting yesterday, Jan. 9. The council packet she received the week before included a memo from Town Administrator Scott Thomas. Its first point summarized for council the town’s need to plan for 124 housing units by 2045, required by the state’s Growth Management Act. Thomas writes “Of these units, 92 are expected to be occupied by low to moderate income families.”

Looking at the data, 82 units, 66%, are to be priced for people making less than 80% of the area median income. Sixty-four units are needed for people making 50% or less of the area median income, which is in the $50,000 range for a family of four in Skagit County..

Every county, and thus every municipality, in the state has these planning and preparation obligations.

Good that Hanneman was chair of La Conner’s planning commission last year and served two terms. She knows state dictates and understands the resources the town has – and does not have – and that a cadre of activists have been insisting their government – elected and professional officials both – prepare for a future that is both equitable and sustainable.

This is not a crisis emergency like the December 2022 flood. But one year after the town formed an Emergency Management Commission, two years after it purchased the half acre Jensen property near Fourth and Sherman streets and three years after it let ownership of the almost two acre Hedlin ballfield property slip from is grasp, the town government again has the opportunity to protectively lead and make progress on the thorniest problem U.S. society faces. No, not racism and not reducing poverty or the scourge of drug addiction, though these most intractable failures are critical components of the national housing shortage.

How is little La Conner, with its very part-time council and mayor and its too small professional staff going to meet the state mandate? Forming another – wait for it – commission may help. For the last year Bill Reynolds has been attending the emergency management commission meetings, first biweekly and now monthly, and reporting on their research, deliberations and decisions to respond to channel flooding and natural disasters of every stripe. They are making real progress.

A Town of La Conner Working Class Housing Commission awaits being formed and charged. It has a role model to emulate and perhaps a better hand to play.

Every two weeks the council has on its agenda the Jensen property. That is not a rote item to check off, waiting for a staff update or a residents opinion. Neither is the mayor’s roundtable a place holder. There the mayor can choose to lead, engaging council on topics of substance. Council members can belly up, figuratively, and place on that table weighty items, whether fresh concepts or examples of successful communities around the world that have figured out how to reduce their local inequitable housing shortages.

Here are some underhanded pitches waiting to be hit out of the park:

First, the south parking lot below Town Hall. Second, the Dunlap property abutting the Jensen property and the northeast end of Pioneer Park. Third the Port of Skagit’s La Conner Marina’s south parking lot east of the Swinomish Yacht Club.

What is the acreage of each? How many apartment unitss of two if not three stories could be built at each? How many construction jobs would development on just one site create? How much state, federal and foundation funding waits to be tapped because everyone in the country hunts for forward thinking practical leadership wanting to prove that equitable and sustainable futures can be built in small town communities such as La Conner?

The future awaits. Maybe the council and mayor need to declare an emergency and create a commission to manage it before some disaster we did not try to prepare for strikes.


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