Deputy Mayor Jon Quitslund Views
- January 27, 2023
- January 3, 2023
- December 14, 2022
- December 5, 2022
- 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
Replacing the 2006 Winslow Master Plan with a New Subarea Plan
January 27, 2023
The consultants chosen to draft a new Winslow Subarea Plan have begun their work, supported by a team of top-level City staff members. Members of the team have also met with City Council members in small groups, to share information and obtain our individual perspectives on the project. Leslie Schneider and I took our turn on January 6th. I mentioned at the end of our meeting that I planned to follow up the discussion with some further comments on the planning process. This essay makes public those comments, somewhat revised.
I think it’s important that members of the City Council are involved, in effective and appropriate ways, during the planning process, so that we can assume responsibility for acting upon and implementing the Subarea Plan’s findings and recommendations.
Before thinking much about what I wanted to say in this essay, I re-read the first three chapters of the 2006 update of the Winslow Master Plan: an 8-page Introduction and Summary, the 18-page Land Use chapter, and the 3-page Housing chapter. It appears that this update of the 1998 Master Plan grew out of the ‘Winslow Tomorrow’ planning process, and that both efforts were undertaken to implement the 2004 update of the Island’s Comprehensive Plan.
As a member of the Planning Commission I was deeply involved in the 2016 update of the Comprehensive Plan. I remember well that at the end of that process, Joe Tovar (the expert consultant who directed the update) said that to implement the Plan, the City’s first priority should be revision of the Winslow Master Plan. The City Council and administration failed to act on that advice. Now we are finally making progress with a suite of long-range planning exercises (including the Climate Action Plan, the Sustainable Transportation Plan, and the Housing Action Plan), for which the 2024 Comprehensive Plan will be the capstone.
I see the Winslow Subarea Plan as the most challenging, and potentially the most consequential, component in all of those planning efforts. Meeting the challenges won’t be easy.
The 2006 Winslow Master Plan provides some foundation stones for the new Subarea Plan, and I think it also serves as a cautionary example. It does little to imagine a future different from Winslow’s circumstances at that time. Pages 2 and 3 in the WMP present, in a series of twelve bullet points, a Vision statement that had been created during the Winslow Tomorrow process. It begins, “The Island is a complete community: Winslow develops as a sustainable, affordable, diverse, livable and economically vital downtown.” Don’t we wish that was all true today?
I guess that the Island seemed on the way to being ‘complete’ in 2006, but what did that mean? If ‘complete’ meant ‘no more need for growth,’ we are certainly not entitled to think that way now. Also, Winslow may be ‘affordable’ for some people, and perhaps the population is culturally more ‘diverse’ now than in 2006, but don’t we still have a long way to go?
With the benefit of hindsight, it can be said that the creators of the 2006 Winslow Master Plan were naïve in their imagining of the future. They put a positive spin on the planning done during ‘Winslow Tomorrow’ – a contentious process that produced much less than was expected. For instance: “There was agreement on the need for a flexible ‘blueprint’ of what to build, as well as a ‘greenprint’ of what to preserve and the importance of the natural landscape informing urban design. It was agreed that the plan for Winslow should be flexible, allowing the downtown to evolve organically over time rather than promoting immediate wholesale change” (p. 7).
The false dichotomy in that last sentence is telling. I doubt that ‘immediate’ and ‘wholesale’ change was promoted by anyone; perhaps that was imagined as the future that ‘greedy developers’ wanted. Organic evolution is obviously preferable, but as we know from agriculture, ‘organic’ development isn’t easy; it’s based on principles, involves regulations, and requires hard work year after year.
Most of the Master Plan’s active verbs are soft and squishy – words like ‘allow’ and ‘encourage.’ For example: “Recommended policies and projects encourage higher density, a mix of uses, more downtown residences and expanded services to serve the growing island population” (p. 8). Nowhere in the Land Use and Housing chapters of the Master Plan is there a rationale for the specifics of Base and Bonus FAR allowances. In the short Housing chapter, there’s a moment of candor: “It is not certain that new development or redevelopment will be using the maximum densities permitted. Some developers may not wish to participate in the FAR bonusing system or provide additional affordable units” (p. 30).
Planning on Bainbridge has always involved a mixture of laissez-faire and an abundance of caution. We take pride in our ‘special’ place, and a sense of ownership and entitlement seems to come with the territory when you have lived here for a while. In 2006, there was reason to think that Winslow had plenty of room to grow – to the extent that any growth was desirable. The development that has happened, within small-town limits and with nothing mandatory, has to some extent been wasteful of golden opportunities. Winslow’s development over the last twenty-plus years was not exclusive or exclusionary by design, but it has had the inequitable effect of excluding many commercial enterprises, a large portion of the Island’s workforce, and all sorts of people who aren’t already well-off.
Unfortunately, Winslow’s development since 2006 has imposed limits on what can be done now without significant changes in FAR allowances, use regulations, and provisions for more diverse housing in the units-per-acre zones. Within the Town Center and High School Road districts, almost the only opportunities I can see to provide for the future will depend on large-scale re-development. Needless to say, there’s no magic wand to make that happen. Most such development, I imagine, takes ten years to be realized, so the sooner we begin considering what is both feasible and desirable, the better.
Will the new Subarea Plan focus mostly on the districts where development is governed by FAR allowances and use-related standards, or will it also deal in detail with the patchwork of units-per-acre residential zones that surround the Town Center? The broader agenda could be unmanageable in the time available, but we need to begin thinking about the present-day and future dynamics of the urban center in relation to the less-dense zones that surround the center.
In the residential zones within the Winslow Study Area, a small portion is zoned R-14. A few segments, most of them in the High School Road area, are zoned R-8. These are the only units-per-acre zones where multi-family housing is a permitted use; elsewhere, multi-family design (defined as two or more primary housing units under one roof) is a conditional use.
Most of the Winslow Study Area east of Highway 305 is zoned R-2.9 or R-2. On the west side of the Town Center, segments are zoned R-2.9, R-3.5 or R-4.3.
In these zones, and in the additional areas served by Winslow’s water and sewer systems, what development potential remains? Where will it be possible to introduce the more affordable housing types that are urgently called for now, not only by state-level and regional planning guidance but in our current Comprehensive Plan? Whatever is persuasively proposed in the new Winslow Subarea Plan will, I expect, predetermine what will be consolidated in the 2024 Comprehensive Plan, in the Vision statements and Goals and Policies of the Land Use and Housing elements.
There are other things on my mind, but I will stop here. I realize that what I’ve said may not be entirely welcome, and I want to emphasize that this essay presents one person’s perspective, not representative of assumptions and objectives in the Council as a whole. At this point, the Council has had no opportunity to discuss any of the issues, nor have Winslow stakeholders and other citizens been heard from. I have tried to provide a backdrop for further inquiry and discussion, involving as many people as possible.
“Existing Housing Policies” in the Housing Needs Assessment
January 3, 2023
An earlier essay summarizing the Housing Needs Assessment put off discussion of Part 4, which describes the planning regimes at several levels (state, regional, county, and municipal) that are the framework for Bainbridge Island’s future housing policies. Here is that missing piece.
Part 4 of the HNA begins by displaying an inverted pyramid, with the Washington State Growth Management Act – the overarching authority for land use planning – at the top and the administration of local regulations at the bottom. In between, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s VISION 2050 and other data-rich planning scenarios establish goals and strategies for responding to the region’s recent and anticipated population growth, and Kitsap County planning policies add more specificity.
In PSRC planning, ideas suited to the population, urban infrastructure, and economic development of Seattle and King County are dominant; in Kitsap County the regional principles apply on a scale appropriate to the county’s geography, population, economy, and the natural and built environments. The HNA says this of the Kitsap Countywide Planning Policies: “Some of the policies are focused on regional coordination efforts while others provide ideas which can be implemented by individual jurisdictions. All policies are intended to be balanced with siting and design that are compatible with existing neighborhoods” (p. 79).
Considering the “special character of the Island,” it will be difficult to develop and implement housing policies that are consistent with regional and county-level guidance. I feel strongly, however, that resistance or indifference to regional perspectives on growth management would be counter-productive: we have been there and done that.
For the four-county region and specifically for Kitsap County, the PSRC has estimated the needs for new housing to accommodate all income levels of the anticipated population. For Kitsap County, the estimates are “9% of new units at 0-30% AMI, 8% of units at 31-50% AMI, 16% of units at 51-80% AMI, 9% of units at 81-100% AMI, 12% of units at 101-120% AMI, and 45% of units above 120% AMI” (p. 78; compare p. 73).
These specific numbers don’t tell any municipality what must be done, but they provide useful reference points, and require us to think in new ways about housing for income-qualified households. Outside of publicly supported housing projects, the for-profit real estate industry does not and cannot provide for households below 120% AMI. Also, if 55% of new housing is needed for households below 120% AMI, it makes little sense to plan for projects in which 80% or more of the units are “market rate,” unless most of the market rate units are designed to be rented or sold to middle-income households.
While construction of single-family homes is not coming to an end on Bainbridge, that type of housing has become less normative – even, in some circles, under a cloud. “The regional strategy emphasizes planning for diverse housing types and densities to accommodate new growth while minimizing displacement of existing residents” (p. 78). Complying with this strategy will require some changes in our zoning regulations, and perhaps we can begin to think differently about “density.” Most of the buildable lots on the Island are in zones where detached single-family homes are the norm. Our units-per-acre zoning effectively prohibits diverse housing types except in the form of accessory dwelling units.
In the HNA’s summary of Kitsap Countywide Planning Policies (pp. 79-80), two points are worth noting. Municipalities are obliged “to make adequate provisions for the needs of middle- and lower-income persons.” We are also called upon to expand “areas zoned for moderate density (‘missing middle’) housing to bridge the gap between single-family and more intensive multifamily development” (p. 79). The HNA defines “moderate density housing” as between 2 and 19 units per parcel (p. 78).
What this guidance suggests to me is that the zones termed “suburban” in our Code (specifically, R-2.9 and R-3.5) should be made more hospitable to moderate- and middle-income households. Also, in our Code R-4.3 is considered an “urban” density; we could look at the development potential there and the housing types that would be appropriate.
Multifamily housing (two or more units under one roof) is already a permitted use in all but the lowest-density zones, and in those (R-2, R-1, and R-0.4), multifamily residential development is a conditional use. However, multifamily housing (duplex only, perhaps) would be feasible in the R-n zones only if the units-per-acre regulation can be relaxed and replaced by limits on footprint and lot coverage.
As we have seen, increasing the diversity of housing types is an imperative in regional and county-level planning, in order to increase the supply of housing and bring down costs. The same imperative is already present, and even paramount, in our Comprehensive Plan Housing element: Goal HO-1 calls for “steady progress” toward “aspirational targets.” Other goal and policy statements throughout the Housing element add emphasis and specificity. Needless to say, up to now we have fallen far short of implementing such policies.
The HNA provides, in pp. 80-91, a summary of directives in COBI’s long-range planning documents (the Affordable Housing Task Force Report, the Climate Action Plan, and the Sustainable Transportation Plan in addition to the Comprehensive Plan), and it also evaluates the effectiveness of existing “policies, programs, incentives, and tools subsidizing housing and aiming to support increased production of affordable housing” (p. 86).
If I may generalize, the status quo is not a pretty picture, but we have many resources to work with. I believe that both political will and public support for more effective housing policies exist now at greater-than-ever levels, and in that spirit, I am expecting the Housing Action Plan to show us how to move forward.
Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessment:
A Guide to the Hot Parts
December 14, 2022
A DRAFT of the long-awaited Housing Needs Assessment was discussed by the City Council in October, and a revised version has now been published. With the HNA as a foundation, the ECONorthwest consultants are moving on to the drafting of a Housing Action Plan for Bainbridge Island.
I expect that early in the New Year, the Council will devote Study Session and Business Meeting time to discussion of some of the issues that will be addressed in the Action Plan. Without the benefit of Council direction in certain policy areas, the Action Plan is apt to be tentative and vague, falling short of what will be needed during completion of the Winslow Subarea Plan and revision of the Comprehensive Plan.
What follows is an attempt to summarize the most important findings of the HNA, and to define issues that I believe the Council, along with other engaged and knowledgeable citizens, ought to focus upon. As Mayor Deets has commented, the HNA answers the “Why?” questions related to housing affordability, and brings us face to face with a bigger question: How can we better meet the needs of people who work here, or may have lived here for many years, who now can’t afford to live here?
The Assessment is 100 pages long, dense and detailed. This essay will summarize some parts in a few words and ponder others at some length. It won’t cover existing housing policies (described on pp. 76-91) at all – saving that big subject for later. There’s an even bigger subject, the various housing types that are needed as alternatives to detached single-family houses and apartment buildings, that I will set aside, expecting that alternative housing types will be described in the Housing Action Plan.
The characteristics of our current housing stock are already familiar; what’s worth considering is why things are as they are, and how our housing could be made to serve the community’s needs better. What adaptations and compromises will be needed? What innovations and experiments should be considered? I don’t have answers to these questions, but let’s start thinking about them.
The characteristics of our current population are an important consideration, and difficult to describe. In demographic terms, we are a puzzle – several separate puzzles, perhaps. Our social fabric is a crazy quilt. Now and for the foreseeable future, most of the jobs on Bainbridge are in the service sector, and a high percentage are filled by people who can’t afford to live among us. And to make things really impossible, the imperatives of long-range planning call upon us to think in terms of the future population, in addition to the needs and wishes of people here and now. Who will be here in 2034 and 2044, and how many of us will be gone?
The future is unknowable, of course, but we can make some educated guesses. We can also act deliberately to prevent bad outcomes and make a better future possible. To a large extent, our future is already baked into the present, and we need to think ahead, making wise choices and investments. There’s much that is alarming in current trends, and I would like to think that the general public’s concern about our future will translate into support for planning and activism on the part of the Council and City staff. That support won’t exist without deliberate efforts to build trust and confidence.
The Introduction to the Housing Needs Assessment begins by addressing the question, “What do we mean by Affordable Housing?” A rule of thumb provides the basis for federal and local housing regulations and subsidy programs: housing is affordable if it “does not require more than 30% of a household’s gross annual income.” This rule is most appropriate to the needs and resources of people at or below median area income; the higher your income, the more you can afford to spend on housing, and the more likely it is that you will find something to rent or buy in the real estate market.
Throughout our region, many households below the median income are “cost burdened,” or even “severely cost burdened,” especially if the distance between home and work involves a long commute. Some people who commute to the Island are well enough situated where they are, but others are not so lucky. We bear just as much responsibility as other Kitsap County jurisdictions to plan equitably for an economically diverse population.
The first premise of planning for affordable housing is that in all communities, the public interest is best served when people at all income levels have access to housing at a cost that is not severely burdensome. Throughout our region, there is a shortage of housing for people around and below the middle of the income range. The shortage is especially acute on Bainbridge, due to several years of low productivity in the housing industry and a focus in that industry on the upper end of the market.
Nationwide, affordable housing programs provide, through subsidies, for housing that is adjusted to a qualifying household’s income, with reference to standard income categories that are updated annually. Bainbridge uses the Area Median Income (AMI) metrics established for the Bremerton-Silverdale area. Communities such as ours, where the median household income and housing costs are unusually high, are now expected to develop policies that make housing available at the “middle income" level (between 96 and 120% of AMI) and below. Currently, our affordable housing policies primarily benefit households at or below 80% of AMI, and our housing supply doesn’t come close to meeting the demand.
The HNA documents differences between the housing stock on Bainbridge and in the rest of Kitsap County. For decades, property values and house prices have been much higher on Bainbridge than elsewhere in the County. “In mid 2022, the median sales price of single-family homes on Bainbridge was around $1.5 million, almost three times greater than the median sales price of the County” (pp. 6-7). Also on Bainbridge, home ownership is the norm: “Nearly four in five Bainbridge households are owned as of 2020,” while in Kitsap County the proportion of ownership to rental households is 68 to 32% (p. 23).
The trends in household incomes are also dramatically different when Bainbridge is compared to Kitsap County. Between 2000 and 2020, on the Island the median household income went from $105,373 to $125,861 (a 19.4% increase), while in the County the median income went up 12.2%, from $70,399 to $78,969. The HNA also says that on Bainbridge the share of households earning over $150,000 increased from 27% in 2010 to 40% in 2020, while the share of households earning less than $50,000 decreased from 28% to 20% (p. 21).
“Bainbridge Island’s population is aging at a faster rate than both Kitsap County and the State of Washington. The Island’s median age increased from 43 years in 2000 to about 50 years in 2020,” and in that period the number over 60 years old has doubled, from 17 to 35% (p. 4; see also p. 18). In that older population, many are like me, or perhaps wealthier, living comfortable and inflation-proof lives, while many others, who may have lived most of their lives on Bainbridge, are on fixed incomes and very sensitive to any increases in the cost of living. They are first and foremost in the number of residents at risk of displacement (see p. 22). Affordable housing should be planned with that older population in mind.
At the same time, “Bainbridge is increasingly losing families with children. Over the 2000 to 2020 period, the share of households with children declined from 49% in 2000 down to 39% in 2020” (p. 4; see also p. 26). Over this period, “the share of younger homeowners (55 years or younger) decreased by about 26 percentage points,” from 59 to 33% (p. 5; see also p. 24). Also, generally speaking, renting on Bainbridge is not a viable alternative: places for rent are scarce and expensive (see pp. 5, 23, 39-41).
“Bainbridge Island’s population has become slightly more diverse over the past twenty years but remains predominantly non-Hispanic White. During the 2000 to 2020 period, the share of non-Hispanic White residents decreased by about 7.5%” (pp. 19-20). In the same period, in municipalities on both sides of Puget Sound, communities of color have grown dramatically, with transformative effects on the region’s culture and economic vitality. Here on Bainbridge, the bubble that an upper-middle-class White population developed over several decades may have broken open, but we need to do more to achieve real economic and cultural diversity.
Planning for a changing population and stimulating the development of housing will entail some changes in our land use policies and development regulations. Any discussion of population growth is apt to be difficult – a high anxiety exercise. In recent years, population growth has been constrained, to some extent by economic factors, but also by policymakers’ lapses of attention. The HNA describes an “underproducing” housing industry (p. 69) and a marketplace where supply and demand have been way out of balance.
Part 3 of the HNA, “Housing Demand and Needs” (pp. 66-75), brings together the crucial information on population growth and housing needs. Planning at the regional, county, and local levels has established an estimate: “The currently available 2044 Bainbridge Island population projection is 29,349 persons in total, which is around 4,524 persons over 2020 Census numbers. . . . This [anticipated] growth is based on a method estimating the current annual growth from 2013-2020 of 1.007 percent” per year” (p. 66). We should bear in mind that this is a “net” figure – the number of new residents in excess of the number departing. It strikes me as a conservative estimate, and it is certainly not a prediction, or any sort of advocacy, of radical change.
Based on this estimate of population growth, the HNA model arrives at a total of “2,277 new homes needed by 2044.” Adding an estimated 395 homes – the current deficit due to underproduction – “brings the total to 2,672 new housing units needed by 2044,” which is an average of 127 units per year over 21 years (p. 68). This average number is higher than the rate of production between 2010 and 2020, but lower than the average for the last twenty years, so it shouldn’t be seen as an “explosion” of unprecedented development.
If growth in the Island’s population is concerning, a look back into our history may be reassuring. Between 1960 and 1990, our population grew from 6,404 to 15,846 people, a total increase of 9,442 residents. Between 1990 and 2020, the population grew to 25,070, a total increase of 9,224 people. Over those years, in percentage terms the annual rate of growth declined, but the net growth in numbers was roughly the same for each 30-year period. We are anticipating approximately half as much growth between 2020 and 2050.
Considering that I’m not likely to be alive in 2034, what gets me excited is that even before 2050, younger generations will have arisen to take charge of the Island’s future. It’s our responsibility now, and our privilege, to open the doors for them.
After estimating the total number of new housing units that will be needed by 2044, the HNA breaks down that number with reference to seven distinct household income categories, beginning at 30% or less of AMI and ending at 150% or more of AMI. These pages (71 to 75) deserve careful attention, because they offer a way to plan for more access to housing across the full economic spectrum. Two scenarios are presented: one uses income data from Bainbridge Island, and the other uses Kitsap County data.
To be clear: the 2,672 new housing units planned for in this analysis are not all for the population that needs “affordable” (i. e., subsidized) housing. Approximately half of the units in each scenario are for the three income categories at or above the median income. The two highest income categories, beginning at 120% of AMI, claim 41% of the housing units in one scenario, and 36% in the other. These, I imagine, would be “market rate” housing, and of course, the market may produce more than the number of such homes than are prescribed in the HNA model.
Focusing now on the model that uses Bainbridge Island AMI data, the number of housing units that would require some degree of subsidy are in five categories, with the lowest between 30% or less of AMI and the highest between 100 and 120% of AMI. All told, these five categories require 1,575 new housing units. (That amounts to an average of 75 units of income-qualified housing per year over 21 years.) The middle category, between 50 and 80% of AMI, calls for 444 units. The two lowest need 550, and the two higher categories (between 80 and 120% of AMI) need 581 units. Income-qualified households in the higher categories could be seen as to some degree subsidizing the lowest-income categories.
Although there’s much more to discuss in the Housing Needs Assessment, this essay may already be too long. I’m aware that it’s not easy reading; in places I may have gone too far into the weeds. I would welcome feedback, including requests for clarification and dissenting opinions.
Interpretation and Implementation of Our Comprehensive Plan
December 5, 2022
In its several different Elements, our Comprehensive Plan is open to many interpretations. What the Comprehensive Plan “says” – what it requires us to do, or to avoid doing – can be, and has been, discussed ad nauseum. Such discussions usually involve people with an axe to grind, and appeals to the Plan sometimes do more to stall decision-making than to promote sound policies.
In my opinion, the City Council and the general public would do well to focus less on competing interpretations of the Comprehensive Plan (as if it were a set-in-stone book of rules and warnings), and more on the interminable and creative work of implementing specific policy directives, amending the Municipal Code and improving the City’s programs and services.
In some respects, the Comprehensive Plan serves as our local government’s constitution, but unlike the federal and state governments’ constitutions, it is a planning document, consisting of policies rather than prohibitions and regulations. By law, it is subject to extensive revision at regular intervals. The long-range planning that we’re involved in now will produce several contributions to the revised Plan that is due to be completed at the end of 2024. I expect that, as in the past, the revision will closely resemble what it replaces, but we will have to take many changes in our circumstances into account, and our future isn’t what it used to be.
The Introduction to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan lays down eight Guiding Principles, and each is accompanied by several Guiding Policies. Many citizens can recite some of the Principles from memory – especially #1, “Preserve the special character of the Island, . . .” I’ll be very surprised if the principles are revised in 2024, but some of the guiding policies might be, based on what we have learned since 2016 and our obligation to plan with 2044 in mind.
The eleven Elements of the Plan (going from Land Use to Human Services) are each, in turn, aspirational in some respects, and down-to-earth in others. Each begins with a Vision statement, imagining what will have been accomplished in the twenty years after adoption of the Plan. Each of the Elements then sets out several Goals, and the goal statements are followed by several Policy statements.
If the guiding principles and the goal statements are the soul and the brains of the Plan, the Policy statements are its beating heart and limbs. Some policies direct citizens to do certain things, or to live in a certain way. Other policies tell policymakers and others in positions of authority what should be done to make real progress toward the stated goals.
For example, in the Land Use element, GOAL LU-2 says, “This Comprehensive Plan recognizes and affirms that as an Island, the city has natural constraints based on the carrying capacity of its natural systems. The plan strives to establish a development pattern that is consistent with the Goals of the community and compatible with the Island’s natural systems.” Following this, the first Policy states, in part, “Recognizing that the carrying capacity of the Island is not known, the citizens of Bainbridge Island should strive to conserve and protect its natural systems within the parameters of existing data. Revisions to the Plan should be made as new information becomes available.”
Here is a further Policy statement: “Establish a public education program to foster the community’s understanding of the natural systems on the Island and their carrying capacity.” There are many such directives in the Plan, and implementation of all of them may be too much to expect. In this instance, significant steps have been taken. City staff, consultants, and members of several citizen committees have been working on a Groundwater Management Plan that, I’m told, is about half-way complete. Information on this Plan is available on the City website under ‘City Projects,’ and from there you can download a four-page Groundwater Fact Sheet, prepared more than a year ago by members of the Environmental Technical Advisory Committee.
As I have said elsewhere in this collection of essays, it troubles me that in the past, the Council and the City administration have been very slow to revise land use and housing regulations in the Municipal Code, implementing specific Policy directives in the current Comprehensive Plan. Now that I’ve served on the Council for over a year, I’ve come to understand better why making such changes is never easy. We (the Council, the City Manager and Planning staff, and many others), can and must do better. Month by month in the year ahead, the pressure will be building.
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.