Deputy Mayor Jon Quitslund Views

  1. May 1, 2023
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  3. February 27, 2023
  4. January 27, 2023
  5. January 3, 2023
  6. December 14, 2022
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  15. April 28, 2022
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  18. March 10, 2022
  19. March 7, 2022

House Bill 1110: What’s In It For Bainbridge Island?

May 1, 2023

Actions taken by the Legislature this year have included substantive responses to the statewide need for more housing, and for housing that is more affordable.  Those needs are nowhere more apparent and urgent than on Bainbridge Island.  We have now taken some giant steps toward understanding our housing needs and how they coexist with other characteristics of our community.  

We have a limited supply of developable land.  We have been committed for decades to low-density development, even in the more urban parts of the Island.  Most of our land area (the ‘conservation zones’) is more ‘exurban’ than ‘suburban’ in character.  Have we been good stewards of the land’s resources, or have we, in our housing policies, used them selfishly and wastefully?

Our population has grown slowly in recent years, due to the high costs and low availability of housing.  The population is growing older, with a declining number of young families and school-age children.  A high percentage of the service-sector workforce that we depend upon can’t afford to live here; this predicament negatively affects quality of life and sense of community for all of us.  Under the surface and around the edges, our social and economic fabric is inequitable.   Can we call this way of life sustainable?

When the legislation known as HB 1110 first emerged, I wasn’t sure how it would, if enacted, affect us here on Bainbridge.   Now that it’s the law and must be implemented, I feel a need to understand what we will be dealing with.  To be clear: I dislike HB 1110, because I think it introduces more confusion than clarity into the process of reforming housing policies.  But our old zoning regulations are in need of reform, and maybe – just maybe – this shock to the system will produce positive change.

In its final form, the bill runs to 21 pages, and it’s not easy reading, but it’s clear enough.  Section 1, the rationale, recites familiar themes.  “Washington is facing an unprecedented housing crisis for its current population,” and the future holds more of the same.  It is anticipated that Washington state will need a million new homes by 2044, suited to “all income levels, including middle housing that will provide a wider variety of housing options,” enabling more people to live near where they work.  Making housing affordable involves subsidies, and “the magnitude of the housing shortage requires both public and private investment.”

As you may know, the basic strategy followed in this bill involves overriding the density regulations in local zoning codes, in order to move away from long-established principles and practices in which detached single-family houses predominate, in favor of developing multi-family housing and “middle housing” building types.  Such buildings, regarded as “compatible in scale, form, and character with single-family houses,” include “two or more attached, stacked, or clustered homes.”   These types include duplexes (plus other -plexes, up to six units), townhouses, courtyard apartments, and cottage housing.

According to HB 1110, the extent of density increases that must be allowed varies with a city’s population.  Bainbridge Island, with a current population close to 25,000, ought to plan for the near future, in which we will be among cities with a population of at least 25,000 but less than 75,000: see Sec. 3.(1)(a) of the bill.  

The legislation applies to “all lots zoned predominantly for residential use,” which excludes the districts in Winslow governed by FAR standards and intended for mixed-use and commercial development.  In accordance with Section 3.(1), Bainbridge Island “must provide by ordinance and incorporate into its development regulations, authorization for . . . development of at least two units per lot on all lots zoned predominantly for residential use.”  In addition, on lots that are either “within one-quarter mile walking distance of a major transit stop,” or if “at least one unit is affordable housing,” at least four units per lot must be allowed.

What will this jiggering of density regulations mean, in practical terms, here on Bainbridge?  Bear in mind that while the allowed number of units increases, the allowed building types are expected to shrink in size and cost.  

I can imagine some positive outcomes and a number of dismal possibilities.  A great deal will depend on how we adapt our zoning code and development regulations, and how property owners, architects, and contractors respond to a changing building environment.  I’m not holding my breath: I expect at least two years to pass before much happens here – good, bad, or indifferent.  

It is somewhat problematic that allowing two or more units applies to lots rather than acres or some other specific unit of measure.  This policy choice provides for variability across our residential zones, but the larger lots in low-density zones, whether they are developed or not, will have the most room for higher-density development.   That could be directly contrary to our Comprehensive Plan’s land use strategy, although the requirement of middle housing building types will tend to rule out the jumbo-size and very costly detached houses that now predominate in subdivisions and on single-family lots.  

The City’s obligation to “authorize” or “allow” a doubling of density across most of the Island doesn’t mean that it can and will happen anywhere.  Property rights include the right to do nothing, and HB 1110 doesn’t push a property owner to build as many units as the regulations might permit.  The size of the lot, its physical characteristics, and our stringent environmental regulations will limit what is possible and economically feasible.  Septic system regulations and access to drinking water are limiting factors in most parts of the Island.  I expect that HB 1110 will be less applicable and much less impactful here than it will be in larger cities where big tracts of land are zoned for suburban development.

As we plan for the future, accommodating our share of the region’s population growth, adapting to climate change and working to correct social inequities, we also ought to plan on living both practically and imaginatively within the limits of our land.  Increasing housing density allowances might lead in other places to crowded cookie-cutter developments, but I believe that we can do better here.