Building housing in the comp plan
From the editor
January 17, 2024
Town of La Conner residents have two weeks to offer their two cents – or perhaps exceedingly more valuable recommendations – as possible amendments to the town’s comprehensive plan – and the development code, too. Submittals made through Jan. 31 are free. More important is the schedule, for proposals through January are considered this year, in the 2024 cycle by the staff, planning commission and council.
Stay awake. This is important for the future of anyone planning to stay or move into La Conner. The Washington state Legislature mandates counties and municipalities follow the Growth Management Act. Don’t yawn. La Conner’s comprehensive plan provides the policy guidelines for shaping ordinances and the Town’s development code. As Bill Reynolds has reported, “A municipal comprehensive plan is a blueprint for determining community goals and regulating key public policies, including those related to transportation, utilities and land use.”
Maybe this has more to do with your children and grandchildren and the people you want and need to be your neighbors than this present moment, but the future is where they – and you – will live.
As editorialized last week, La Conner is required to plan for 124 new housing units by 2045. Almost 75% percent are to be rented to low to moderate income families. That will allow teachers’ aides, grocery and retail clerks, restaurant servers and common laborers to walk to their jobs.
Read the Town’s comprehensive plan. It has sincere and hopeful language throughout its chapters. Chapter 2 addresses public participation. Chapter 6 is on housing. Alas, the state laws our town’s plan mimic contains optimistic wording that becomes meaningless in its generosity. Here is the heart of our problem:
“Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state.”
“Encourage” is meaningless, as is “all economic segments of the population.” The one percent, the upper class, the professional class, the two income earners white collar segment are not part of the affordable housing conversation except for – shock and horror – being taxed and regulated to level the playing field so 92 of 124 housing units built in La Conner by 2024 are actually “occupied by low to moderate income families” as Scott Thomas wrote in his memo to council at the start of the year.
La Conner’s comp plan also “Encourage(s) a regulatory environment where innovative and creative housing and habitat options can be considered. Encourage alternative means to accomplishing Housing Element goals.”
Here is a model amendment waiting to be filed in the next two weeks: “Prioritize and mandate to the extent legally allowed the planning, development, permitting and construction of housing priced for working class families as first in line for all residential housing applications before the Town of La Conner.”
Or how about this, since there is very little – though relatively large sized acreage, was identified last week – publicly owned or controlled property within town boundaries and on private property the government can mandate very little: “Application for the development of residential units must include 10% square footage at minimum that meets the Growth Management Act housing requirements for 2045 or the applicant must pay into the Working Class Housing Ransom Fund an equivalent amount for the construction of a two bedroom apartment unit.”
Only alternatives actually put in place with a strict and compassionate set of guidelines that requires working class housing units will provide the fertile future upon which modestly priced apartment units can be planned, funded, developed and built.
Editors sometimes propose. The populace must speak to their elected representatives and petition for the development of plans, policies and codes that move the community toward a future that is more than flowery language and more than vague support of not offending anybody and does not prevent free market development of housing that only meets the needs of those with the deepest and largest pockets.