Oak Harbor eyes changes to housing policies

On tap: Affordability, special needs and manufactured homes.

By Laura Guido / Whidbey News-Times

OAK HARBOR — As part of broader conversations around housing in the region, Oak Harbor Planning Commission began its examination of the city’s housing element of the comprehensive plan to determine if changes should be made.

No decision was made on whether an amendment to the element should be implemented. The document provides long-range goals and policies to guide housing decisions over the next 20 years.

“It’s not necessarily the solution and end-all to all our housing issues,” senior planner Cac Kamak said. “It’s just a snapshot and a way to look at it at that time.”

The city updated its housing element in 2016, but Kamak said most of the changes were to the statistical and demographic data and not the goals and policies.

The goals given are to ensure adequate affordable housing opportunities exist for low- and moderate-income families, promote housing for the special needs population, identify and provide sufficient and appropriate land for housing and preserve and improve the value of existing neighborhoods.

The element’s policies support these goals by including directions such as to create incentives for affordable housing in the form of density bonuses, support the county and other agencies in housing programs and create code for manufactured home parks.

Oak Harbor’s code currently includes language that addresses all of the policies in the element, which have been around since the early 90s, Kamak said.

Planning commission member Hal Hovey wondered how the county’s update to its housing element would affect what the city will do moving forward.

The county is in the final stages of adopting its updated element.

“Are there things hidden in there that are going to be little land mines for us to come across?” Hovey asked staff at the meeting.

Kamak said staff is still trying to determine the update’s effect on the city. Development Services Director Steve Powers clarified that Island County has historically had about 70 percent of its growth in the rural areas and 30 percent in urban areas, which is the opposite of what is recommended by the Growth Management Act.

He said the county isn’t “trying to force” anything on the city, but rather attempting to be more GMA compliant.

Commission member Allen McPheeters took note of the policy to “promote the inclusion of subsidized units throughout the community to diversify neighborhoods.”

“I underlined diversify neighborhoods, and said why? Why do we want to do that?” McPheeters asked. “Although, I can think of some reasons why we might.”

He suggested changing the word “inclusion” to “distribution” if the goal is to spread subsidized housing through the city, but said he’d like a policy that states subsidized housing is a “last-resort method” for affordable housing.

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