Councilmember Jon Quitslund Views
- October 3, 2022
- September 16, 2022
- September 9, 2022
- August 8, 2022
- July 12, 2022
- June 30, 2022
- May 31, 2022
- April 28, 2022
- April 12, 2022
- March 28, 2022
- March 10, 2022
- March 7, 2022
What Is “Density Done Right”?
September 16, 2022
In community planning, the regulations that set limits on the density of development are fundamental determinants of character, function and appeal in a neighborhood and throughout a broader zoning district. Here on Bainbridge, for most of the island, density is determined on the basis of housing units per acre, and most of the units are single family homes: R-4 would mean four houses on an acre, and R-0.4 means one house on 2.5 acres.
How effectively do density standards manage residential development and population growth on Bainbridge? In their present shape, do the zoning regulations (Title 18 in the Municipal Code) serve us well enough? The significance of ‘density’ is not precise, but relative: “low density” stands in contrast to “high density,” and what’s called “high density” here is in a world apart from high density development in Seattle.
The prevalence of low density zoning on Bainbridge is given most of the credit for our uniqueness as a city. It may be the foundation for our sense of place and some of our community values, but we ought to recognize that the development rights conferred by our zoning code produce some odd outcomes. A big house on a small lot is equivalent to an even bigger house with several outbuildings. How are both of them essentially the same, in terms of allowed density, as a small house on a large lot that remains mostly forested?
I am convinced that the density standards in the zoning code do relatively little to advance our conservation goals. Density calculations do not measure the environmental impacts of development, and they are not related to a given property’s potential for conservation of natural resources.
Over the years, our preference for low-density development has produced sprawl and the traffic that accompanies it, plus high and rapidly increasing real estate prices. Also, when the only good density is low density, it becomes impossible to plan effectively for diversity in housing types to suit an economically and culturally diverse population. We have made commitments in the Comprehensive Plan’s conservation and development strategy (Goal LU-4) without taking the necessary steps to implement those policies.
The Bainbridge zoning map is not without a rationale, but its design is a patchwork, providing more for variety than for uniformity. And variety – even inconsistency – contributes positively to our distinctive sense of place. You’re likely to see R-2 lots across the road from an expanse of R-0.4 properties. R-2 is the zoning classification for many waterfront lots, which are often long and narrow, with houses close together and close to the waterfront view.
The R-0.4 zone, which mandates the lowest density of residential development, covers approximately 90% of the island’s land mass. The actual density of development across that length and breadth of the island is far from uniform, which suits our variable terrain. It’s the most rural portion of the island, and large tracts of the land are forested, including many acres that in the early 20th century were served by roads and cleared for houses and farms. The Parks district and the B. I. Land Trust now reserve much of the acreage for recreational and conservation purposes. On the other hand, in much of the R-0.4 zone residential development exists on nonconforming lots, one acre or less in area, because the lots were platted before the imposition of R-0.4 zoning. Finally, we should bear in mind that this large part of the island, zoned for low-density residential use and conservation of our critical areas, wildlife habitat, and natural resources, also allows forestry and agriculture as permitted uses. Several other uses, including multifamily housing, are conditionally permitted.
To summarize: across the expanse of R-0.4 zoning, the pattern of residential and other forms of development, together with large and small tracts that will never be developed for residences, forms a patchwork that is similar in its variety to the more suburban and urban densities zoned R-1 and at higher densities.
So far in this essay, I have mentioned only the units-per-acre zoning that is applicable where development is primarily residential. In most of Winslow, a different set of rules applies, based on Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowances. Through this methodology, combined with limits on building height and lot coverage, density is defined not in terms of a maximum number of building units for housing or some other purpose, but by the building design, the uses it accommodates, and its relationship to other buildings. These regulations are spelled out in BIMC 18.12 (Dimensional Standards). The FAR methodology is well suited to medium-density urban development, supporting a mixture of commercial and other non-residential land uses, together with residential development at an urban density in a variety of housing types.
The units-per-acre zoning outside of Winslow and the FAR-based zoning in town are not in synch with each other. In the single-family zones we place strict limits on the number of units permitted per acre, but only in special circumstances is the size of a house limited, so low-density housing can be big, bold, and environmentally high-impact. In Winslow, where we expect higher densities and efficient uses of the limited land available, we also see single-story buildings, suburban-style sprawl, and spacious parking lots. The FAR allowances for ‘base’ and ‘bonus’ density were set at low levels many years ago, and they have not been revised upward to enable the development and re-development that is needed now.
Development in Winslow has not been prevented, but only certain types of development have been profitable. Mixed-use development, combining residential capacity with retail and service-oriented businesses, has been neither mandated nor effectively supported by incentives. According to the Comprehensive Plan, “increasing the diversity of housing types and the supply of affordable housing” is a high priority in Winslow, but to date nothing has been mandated.
During my years on the Planning Commission, I was involved in some wide-ranging conversations about possible changes in the zoning regulations for Winslow. Back then, of course, no such changes were being called for by the City Council or the Planning department, so the talk went nowhere. Now we all see the need for updating the Winslow sub-area plan, and it is time to get serious about making some such changes.
Based on the title of this essay, you may have thought that by the end it would reveal what “density done right” amounts to. No such luck! Google the phrase, and you’ll find lots to read, just as I have. Finding out what’s right for Bainbridge will be, I assume, a slow, somewhat contentious, and ultimately collaborative process.
Maybe, months from now, I’ll be able to say more on this topic. At this point, I’m sure of only one thing: the right answer is not going to be “high density.” We need to stop thinking in black-and-white absolute terms; we need moderate and purpose-driven increases in density, and imaginative design. And planning for the future of this community can’t be a zero-sum game.
The Puget Sound Regional Council’s Housing Strategy
May 31, 2022
I have written previously about useful information that is readily available on the Puget Sound Regional Council’s website. Currently, several planning documents related to the development of housing are featured there. This is timely, specifically for me, because on June 2nd I will represent Bainbridge Island in a meeting of the Growth Management Policy Board, and implementation of the Regional Housing Strategy will be the principal subject for discussion.
The following documents can be accessed on the website: the Regional Housing Strategy (18 pp.), an Executive Summary of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (10 pp.), and the full Regional Housing Needs Assessment completed in January 2022 (116 pp.). I have read only portions of the third document; I will be summarizing here what I’ve learned to date, primarily from the shorter documents and the upcoming meeting’s agenda packet.
Let me comment first on how I view the PSRC and the policy documents they publish for the benefit of the four counties in their jurisdiction (King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap). Here’s a quotation from the June 2nd agenda: “By providing data, guidance, and technical assistance, PSRC supports jurisdictions in their efforts to adopt best housing practices and establish coordinated local housing and affordable housing targets.”
The goals and policies articulated by the Regional Council resemble, on a more general level, those found in our Comprehensive Plan. The policies are not mandatory regulations, and the goals are somewhat aspirational. PSRC guidance is based on an understanding that local circumstances impose limits on what is appropriate and possible. “At the local level, places vary in their needs for housing investments and interventions. A place typology is a way to identify actions based on local conditions such as size, housing needs, market conditions, demographics, growth expectations, and staff capacity” (quoting again from the meeting agenda regarding implementation of the regional strategy).
As I see it, the long-range planning efforts we are undertaking now, culminating in the 2024 Comprehensive Plan, are our opportunity to develop a “place typology” suited to Bainbridge Island that is consistent with PSRC’s broad strategies.
The Executive Summary of regional housing needs states bluntly, “The region is two years behind in housing production.” 46,000 units are needed to address this backlog. Not only that: to accommodate the population growth anticipated by 2050, a breathtaking 810,000 new housing units are needed – 418,000 for King, 187,000 for Snohomish, 161,000 for Pierce, and 43,000 for Kitsap County.
These numbers are daunting, but of course whatever progress is made in the next 25 years will be achieved gradually, in various ways, across the region. Most important, perhaps, is the need for housing of different types, breaking with development practices that have relied too much on building for the single-family home ownership market. “To meet the region’s vision for a more livable, prosperous, and equitable future, more housing is needed of different types, costs, and with access to jobs, transit and services.” This diversity is easy enough to justify, but it will be hard to achieve.
The Regional Housing Strategy is a three-fold program devoted to Supply, Stability, and Subsidy. Implementation of the strategy will not take place from the top down. “Many of the needed actions require work by cities and counties, as zoning and permitting are local functions.” Pages 14 to 16 in the Strategy document display many ways in which a local jurisdiction’s initiatives can be supported by the Regional Council and by policies and funding at the State and Federal levels.
I will have more to say in another essay about information in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment that will be pertinent to our needs on Bainbridge Island. For the time being, I will close with one passage that jumped out at me from p. 17 of the Assessment:
People of color make up about one-third of the region’s current population and increased by 174,000 residents, or 100 percent, from 2000 to 2018. This increase in population is over twice the size of the existing population in Kitsap County. The white population in the region has grown at a much slower rate of 159,000 residents, or 6 percent. People of color represent 83 percent of the region’s population growth since 2000.
Next Steps, Revising Ordinance 2022-02 (Affordable Housing on Church Property)
April 28, 2022
It goes without saying that the paragraphs below are one person’s views, not those of the City Council, which has not yet had an opportunity to discuss Ordinance 2022-02.
The Planning Commission’s April 14 DRAFT of Ordinance No. 2022-02 can be the basis for a revised DRAFT that completes the Ordinance. I think the Council will be able to reach agreement on several questions that divided the Planning Commission. We should discuss the pros and cons of returning the unfinished business to the P C with some policy direction, but I would rather have the Council accept its decision-making role at this point. The choices that have to be made are clear enough.
The Council must acknowledge that the up-zoning of property currently zoned R-0.4 is controversial. For some people, up-zoning in the “conservation area” can’t or shouldn’t be permitted. However, it should be recognized that R-0.4 zoning was applied across much of the Island in a haphazard fashion. Throughout the R-0.4 zone, many already-platted lots are less than an acre, and properties are far from equal in their value for conservation. Over the years, many things have changed, within the zone and around its edges. The Council needs to decide whether, given the location and characteristics of Bethany Lutheran’s property, any amount of affordable housing is an appropriate use there.
It has come to my attention that our Code provides, in BIMC 2.16.140, for Site-specific rezones. “The city may apply for a rezone of one or more properties as necessary to improve consistency between the official zoning map and the comprehensive plan” (140.D.2). This is a quasi-judicial process, complicated enough to be convincing.
We will need to decide on a rationale for determining how much bonus density – i. e., how many housing units, how much lot coverage, and perhaps other dimensional standards – should be allowed for affordable housing on the Bethany Lutheran site. It should be understood that the enabling Ordinance will only establish limits for a hypothetical project. Several factors, as yet unknown, might modify what will be proposed and what will be permitted. If the limit is set at 21 units, that does not mean 21 units can and will be built.
What is the proper scope for this Ordinance? We will have to choose between a focus on the Bethany site only, and an attempt to provide regulations for churches across the Island, on the assumption that there might be any number of applications for a density bonus.
We will need to determine whether this “pilot project” will set any kind of precedent for development of affordable housing on church property elsewhere on the Island. To my own way of thinking, we are dealing with a one-of-a-kind project, and if there ever is another such project here, very different circumstances will have to be taken into account.
Any such project will, I assume, involve a conditional use permit. It remains to be seen whether Ordinance No. 2022-02 will include CUP conditions suited only to this pilot project, or possibly applicable to another project.
What is most important, in my opinion, is a recognition within the Council, and broadly within the community, that in planning for this development, we are motivated by a commitment to equity in planning. We will be breaking new ground, and we are just beginning to catch up to the world we live in.
With the Bethany Lutheran project, the City can and should take deliberate steps toward the many-faceted goal of social equity: inclusion, free from partiality and prejudice, of people who, in the recent past, have had little or no opportunity to live on the Island. Everybody here knows that for a person or a family interested in moving to Bainbridge Island now, this is an exclusive and expensive place, and it has been for at least the last decade. This de facto policy of exclusion hasn’t happened deliberately. We have just looked the other way, and we haven’t made the effort needed to counteract the consequences of our zonng regulations, planning and development practices, and market forces.
Equity in planning, and planning for equity, should be a pattern in the fabric of our Housing Action Plan. Planning for equity involves imagining a future different from our present – a future that many of us will not live to see. Understanding the importance of equity in planning, we must also understand the multi-cultural history of this country, and the fact that financial and other resources have never been equitably distributed. Now it’s time to make what changes we can, responding better than in the past to the aspirational goals in our Comprehensive Plan.
Regional Population Trends, 2010-20
April 12, 2022
The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), headquartered in Seattle, oversees planning efforts for four counties: King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap. The PSRC website provides access to a great deal of information about our region, and care is taken to make the facts of life comprehensible and useful. Our region is dynamic, and only by understanding the changes surrounding us and within our own community can we develop policies that will shape the future to our liking.
I have been studying several of the brief reports published in recent years under the heading of “PUGET SOUND TRENDS.” In November 2021 – as soon as possible after completion of the 2020 census – the PSRC tallied the past decade’s population growth, across the region and at the county and municipal levels.
Regionally, the population now stands at 4.3 million, up from 3.7 million in 2010.
Of the four counties, Kitsap is the smallest (population 275,611), with the lowest rate of population growth (9.7%).
King County, geographically the largest and also the most populous (2,269,675), also experienced the most rapid rate of growth (17.5%).
The other two counties, though each remains under 1 million in population, are close to King in rate of growth: Pierce at 15.8% and Snohomish at 16.1%.
While Bainbridge Island is economically and culturally linked to Seattle, we are geographically closer to the West Sound, with its mix of suburban, small town, and rural characteristics. We can’t be assured that the rate of growth in Kitsap County will remain below 10% for the next decade, but I think there’s no reason to assume otherwise.
Looking at Bainbridge Island in relation to other West Sound municipalities, I see food for thought. The Island’s growth between 2010 and 2020 involved a net increase of 1,800 people, 7.8%. Gig Harbor, in Pierce County, grew at the remarkable rate of 68.8%. Port Orchard grew by 39.9% (partly by annexation). Poulsbo grew by 30.2%, and if Poulsbo’s Urban Growth Area is included, the population there is 12,503 – roughly half of the Island’s.
Such words as “growth” and “development” are divisive – no way to start a conversation here. Population growth is not something to wish for, and there are obstacles in the way of it, both in our zoning code and in environmental regulations. However, there are downsides to our history of resisting growth: we’ve had to take it as it comes, and the housing market benefits some people while others are excluded.
We have an obligation to plan for population growth: this obligation is accepted and articulated in our Comprehensive Plan, and not something being forced upon us. After more than thirty years as a City, it’s about time we got good at planning for the future.
March 28, 2022
Many obstacles stand in the way of our developing effective housing policies. Under the Growth Management Act, the City has a long-standing obligation to plan for housing that “makes adequate provisions for existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community.” The GMA wouldn’t exist if its requirements were easy to satisfy; in practice, some of them have seemed impossible. Now, however, we see the consequences of not even trying to make “adequate provisions.” The need for concerted action is recognized in the Housing Element of our current Comprehensive Plan, but we have barely begun to implement those goals and policies.
By effective housing policies, I mean regulations that are not just “on the books,” but are productive of housing that meets a wide range of community needs. In the not too distant past, such needs were met effectively by the housing market and the enterprise of property owners, whether they were building for themselves or for sale. As the Island’s population has increased and the costs of property ownership and development have gone up, however, only the high end of the market has prospered.
The need for housing policies that provide equitably for an economically diverse population has been obvious to some Islanders for at least twenty years, and what has been done? Not nothing, I would say, but not enough. Why is that?
Bainbridge Island may be unique in many ways, but we are not alone in our dearth of affordable housing. Across our region, housing that is accessible to lower-income households is in short supply, and the same is true for people of middle-income means. However, other communities are well ahead of us in responding to the regional need.
What is the problem? It’s not one problem, but many. There are intrinsic difficulties in the crafting of any sort of land use regulations. Whether they emphasize protection of environmental features or the permitting of development, such regulations are all about setting appropriate limits. Except for raising a child, what could be more difficult than that? When the development you desire is to any degree at odds with market forces and the profit motive, the difficulties are compounded exponentially.
Housing policies, like other provisions for the community’s long-term health, safety, and welfare, are designed to solve problems, or at least to make them manageable. This objective has to be broadly understood and supported. What if the so-called “problems” are not apparent and meaningful to the general public? To many, if not most people here on Bainbridge, what is most obvious is that more housing means more people. And – not to put too fine a point on it – would not many more people inevitably mean many more problems?
One of the arguments in favor of establishing Bainbridge Island as a city was that property development and population growth could and would be constrained: we the people would control our own destiny. Since incorporation, our Comprehensive Plan, Municipal Code, and administrative decisions have imposed many constraints on development. Opinions vary on how effective they have been.
Population growth has definitely been constrained in recent years. The Island’s population doubled between 1960 and 1980, going from 6,404 to 12,314. In the next 20 years, the population increased by 64.9%, adding 8,000 people. Then, between 2000 and 2020, the rate of increase was 23.4%, adding less than 5,000 people. The rate of increase was 11.8% in the first decade of this century, and 8.9% in the most recent. The current projections of future growth assume a rate of 1% per year.
How has population growth been constrained so effectively? Not by any policy decisions, unless you count decisions not to go forward with a recommended course of action: there have been several such decisions. To a great extent, market forces and the laws of supply and demand have controlled both the development of housing and population growth on the Island.
Many will say that that’s as it should be. Some people have certainly reaped financial benefits from the housing market. Many others, comfortable in their homes and more or less unperturbed by gradual increases in their property taxes, may want the restrictive status quo to continue indefinitely. I can understand, therefore, why it is difficult to develop long-range plans that will encourage development, and why any proposal for a small-scale change in the density allowed by current zoning regulations is regarded as setting a dangerous precedent.
It should be generally recognized that the housing market, as we’ve known it here on Bainbridge in recent years, provides generously for some people while it excludes many others. An up-to-date Housing Needs Assessment will, I expect, force us to confront some difficult equity issues. (By “us” I mean the general public as well the City Council and other public servants.) I will try to address such issues some other time. add content...
Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessments, Part Two
March 10, 2022
The 2016 Housing Needs Assessment is more elaborate and data-rich than its predecessor. It responds to guidance from the State level (in the Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Code) and from the Puget Sound Regional Council and Countywide planning policies.
Here is the opening sentence of the Introduction: “The purpose of this Housing Needs Assessment is to present the City of Bainbridge Island’s current housing goals and policies, along with the City’s current housing supply inventory and demographics, and provide some analysis based on these statistics to determine the current and future housing needs on the Island.”
As a component of the current Comprehensive Plan, the Needs Assessment adds a supplement, in its 62 pages, to the relatively brief Housing element: the “shoulds” and “shalls” in the Assessment could carry just as much weight as those in the Comprehensive Plan itself. To date, however, relatively little has been done to implement the 2016 Housing element’s goals and policies, which is why we need a Housing Action Plan and an updated Winslow Subarea Plan.
As is noted on p. 9 of the Assessment, Kitsap County’s planning policies call for “equitable distribution of affordable housing at all income levels,” and for “implementing regulations to provide a mix of housing types and costs to achieve identified goals.” Those policies focus on dispersing “housing for those below 120% countywide median income throughout Kitsap County” (p. 10).
Pages 12 to 33 provide a Housing Supply Inventory, documenting changes in the supply of different housing types and in the costs of ownership and rental tenancy between 1980 and 2010. It comes as no surprise that “single-family housing makes up 81% of all housing units on Bainbridge Island” (p. 12). Throughout those 30 years, more than 75% of those residences were owner-occupied (pp. 15-16).
As was noted in the 2003 Assessment, sale prices for homes on Bainbridge are well above prices in the rest of Kitsap County. A graph on p. 23 shows that at the peak of the housing market in 2007, the average sale price of a single-family home on Bainbridge was above $800,000, while the average in the rest of Kitsap was below $400,000. As the market rebounded, a similar gap was re-established in 2014.
Pages 33 to 49 provide a wealth of demographic information. The number of households grew from 2,778 in 1970 to 10,584 in 2010, while the average household size decreased from 3.06 to 2.41 (p. 35). Page 38 displays census statistics from 1980 to 2010 to document racial representation by numbers of people and percentages of the population. The percentage classified as White varies from 95.1% in 1990 to 91% in 2010. “African Americans, Some Other Race, and Hispanic categories showed consistent growth through 2010” (p. 37), but the numbers remained low.
As in the 2003 Assessment, changes in the age distribution across the growing population are of considerable interest. “In 1980 Bainbridge Island had a fairly even distribution of age groups. Since that time the population has seen significant increases in the 5 to 17, 35 to 59, and the 60 and over groups” (p. 39). The number of newborns and toddlers peaked at 1,046 in 1990 and was down to 931 in 2010. The largest age group, 35 to 59, went from 3,887 in 1980 to 9,358 in 2010, and it makes sense that a good number of couples of that age would have children of school age.
Has the 35 to 59 age group expanded between 2010 and now, or held steady, or declined? This is one of the questions that the updated Housing Needs Assessment will answer for us. It won’t be my generation, or others who are over 65 now, who will populate and govern Bainbridge Island twenty years from now, but today’s younger citizens, and others who don’t live on Bainbridge now.
It will surprise no one that for a large portion of Bainbridge residents, household incomes have been increasing steadily for decades. The census provides median amounts: half of households will be above, and half below. In 1990, the median household income was $42,135; in 2000, it was $70,110; in 2010, it was $92,558. And the figure for 2020 is $117,990.
The last segment of the Assessment (pp. 49-62) is devoted to Determining Existing and Future Housing Needs. One method used is “Cost Burden Analysis,” on the assumption that 30% of household income is an appropriate amount to spend on housing (rent or mortgage payments and basic utility costs). If these costs are above 50%, a low-income household will be “extremely cost burdened.”
Pages 50 to 53 provide a cost burden analysis based on statistics from 2012. I find the figures and analysis in this section opaque, and the policy implications are not well articulated. The message seems to be that in owner-occupied housing, a significant number of residents (35%) are cost-burdened, but for the majority of homeowners, their incomes are such ($75,000 or more a year) that paying more than 30% for housing is not an intolerable burden. (On the contrary, it may be a smart investment.) Most renters, however, have much lower incomes, and the limited supply of rental units is priced beyond what they can afford.
Pages 53 to 56 look into the availability of housing with reference to different income levels. The population is sorted into Upper, Middle, Moderate, Low, and Very-low income households, with reference to different percentages of the Area Median Income. It doesn’t surprise me to see that 46% of Bainbridge households were classified as Upper-income (earning more than 120% of the AMI), but the percentages in other categories are thought-provoking. A total of 28% are classified as either Low-income or Very low-income (earning less than 50% of AMI): that’s more than I would expect. And on the other hand, only 26% are classified as either Middle-income or Moderate-income (earning between 120% and 50% of AMI). Regionally, the Middle and Moderate categories add up to 40% of the population.
Pages 56 to 62 are devoted to Workforce Housing and the related subjects of Jobs / Housing Balance and Transportation Costs. Regionally and at the County level, growth management planning seeks to reduce the costs (in time, money, and environmental impacts) of long distances between homes and workplaces. It is also worth considering that these costs may fall most heavily on lower-income workers. “Bainbridge Island’s jobs / housing balance is .59 jobs for every housing unit in the City” (p. 61), where a ratio above 1.0 is indicative of a more “complete” community.
As we all know, Bainbridge Island has historically been a bedroom community, with many residents working off-Island. At the same time, many who work on Bainbridge can’t afford to live here, and their transportation costs may tip them into cost-burdened status.
My next essay will consider some of the reasons why, despite recognition of the needs, Bainbridge Island has failed to develop an adequate supply of housing for individuals and families earning below 120% of the area median income.