Clarkston officials voiced concerns about a bill making its way through the Legislature that could change zoning rules across the state.
If House Bill 1110 passes, small cities and counties would lose local control of zoning, and corporate developers could build low- and middle-income housing units in single-family residential areas, the mayor said.
“There are some definite red flags here,” Mayor Monika Lawrence said Monday night. “I’m not in favor of this bill. I think we need to make an effort to contact our legislators to vote against it. This is going to devastate our city, I think.”
The bills going through the House and Senate require cities under the Growth Management Act to authorize “middle housing” in their development regulations. Middle housing paves the way for multiple units, courtyard apartments and townhouses to be built in neighborhoods traditionally dedicated to single-family homes.
Although Clarkston isn’t under the Growth Management Act, the proposed law would force the city to comply, said Kevin Poole, public works director. In the bill’s current form, the new regulations would apply to cities with a population of 6,000 or more.
“The housing situation is a local problem that should be addressed and planned for at the local level,” Poole said in his talking points. “Let the community decide how to address the needs for affordable housing.”
Poole said the sponsors of the bill, who reside on the west side of the state, want to do away with local zoning ordinances for residential development. He fears corporate real estate developers will be the folks building and renting the units.
“All of that money will be siphoned off to pay stockholders,” Poole said. “With the tax credits, these developments will be tax exempt.”
The legislation also would change parking requirements, city officials said. Two spaces per unit would be required, and the remaining vehicles would be parked along the streets. That could clog up areas near Port Drive when a new housing development is constructed.
Catholic Charities Eastern Washington in Spokane plans to build a 72-unit apartment complex on 6.3 acres, just west of Walmart at 1005 Port Drive. Those residences are slated to be completed in 2024.
Poole said the state Department of Commerce would “basically take local control” if the bill is signed into law. In other words, the state would review “everything we do,” he said.
It also does away with the appeals process for planning and zoning decisions. “They’ve basically taken away local appeals,” Poole said. “They’re giving free rein to corporate developers to build whatever they want.
Councilor Russ Evans said it seems like lawmakers wants small cities to go back to being company-owned towns.
Poole said the proposal is getting ramrodded through the House and Senate with sponsors on both sides of the political aisle.
Lawrence said the intent seems to be increasing the number of homes for middle-income people, but middle income means something different in Seattle. For example, a nurse and firefighter were highlighted as a couple who can’t afford to buy a house there. However, in Clarkston, the same couple would be making a good living in those same jobs, she said.
“They’re set up to do this quickly,” Lawrence said. “We need to be able to call sponsors and tell them we think this is a bad idea. This doesn’t work for us. We’re a small city, and our number of exempt properties is going up.”
Clarkston has five low-income housing units within city limits. The other two are located in Asotin and unincorporated areas of the county.
“I think we do more than our share for low-income housing in our city,” Lawrence said.
Poole said small cities and counties can’t afford to build affordable housing without consistent assistance from the federal and state government. After construction, the rent revenue may not cover the long-term costs of administration and maintenance.
Policies and programs that work in Seattle or Spokane may not be applicable to cities such as Clarkston, Pomeroy or Dayton, Poole said.
Asotin County Commissioner Brian Shinn, who attends city council meetings on a regular basis, said he agrees with the city’s concerns.
“I think we need to full-court press it,” Shinn said.
Letters and phone calls to state lawmakers are in the works. Shinn said he’s already reached out to the three legislators who represent this area, and he’s heard back from Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
Lawrence said the minimum population requirement needs to be shifted from 6,000 to 20,000 or more. A one-size-fits all bill does not fit the smaller communities, primarily located in eastern Washington.
Small communities do not have the ability to absorb additional costs or generate more revenue for fire, ambulance and police calls at property tax-exempt developments, officials said.
In addition, the bill negatively affects the ability of low- to middle-income families to build personal wealth by home ownership, Poole said. “This bill shifts the wealth and property ownership to corporate real estate developers.”
Sponsors of the bill say Washington is facing an unprecedented housing shortage and without significant action, the state will not meet its goal of creating 1 million new homes by 2044.
Increasing options for various income levels is critical, including middle housing that will provide a wider variety of options, sponsors said. “It is necessary to lift bans on the development of modest home choices in cities near job centers, transit and amenity rich neighborhoods,” according to the HB 1110.
More information on the proposed legislation is available online at app.leg.wa.gov. If passed, the bill takes effect 90 days after the session adjourns.
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