220 Jewett Blvd, PO Box 218, White Salmon, WA 98672 | 509.493.2112
The subject of commercial zoning in downtown White Salmon returned the White Salmon City Council agenda on April 17.
A letter from downtown business owner James Kacena dated April 8 prompted a discussion regarding perceived roadblocks to development and investment in the Commercial District.
Kacena noted in his letter that he had attended a Business Partners planning meeting on April 2 at which City Councilor George Rau led a discussion "about some proposed ordinances to encourage downtown building owners to improve the appearance of their buildings."
During that discussion, Kacena, who also is president of the Mt. Adams Chamber of Commerce board of directors, said he raised the question of whether the city should consider modifying its building code "to change the economics, for the positive, for downtown building owners as a way of incentivizing capital investment in, and therefore improvement of, the downtown business core."
In summary, Kacena suggested three ideas that "could significantly change the feasibility of buying, investing in or building in downtown commercial areas":
Change the restriction on residential occupancy in downtown. His reasoning: "The city should not care if there is mostly residential use in downtown buildings. The city should actually want more residents in downtown because it would generate more foot traffic in downtown for downtown businesses." He said the code should allow building owners and the marketplace to decide how best to achieve maximum value from their properties.
Change the height restriction on downtown commercial buildings by increasing the current 35-foot height limit. Said Kacena, "A height restriction that takes away usable space by counting the basement as part of the building height is a restriction on the value of what can be built. That alone may make the difference between economically feasible and unfeasible."
Change the requirement that building owners provide off-street parking. "You don't have to look very hard at most of our downtown White Salmon buildings to be able to see that it is simply not practical for most of them to provide off-street parking. I submit that it would be better to have a vibrant downtown with a parking problem than it would be to have a dead downtown that has plenty of parking. The answer to the parking issue is not to require parking to the extent that it makes it unfeasible to own a profitable building that is fully occupied. The answers have to be in finding locations on the fringes of downtown to have parking, in combination with some off-street parking requirements or some satellite parking areas."
The letter gave the City Council a lot to think about regarding what kind of downtown regulations would best serve the community's needs in the years to come.
The City Council settled -- for the time being -- the question of development and parking in the downtown Commercial District late last year when it adopted an updated Comprehensive Land-use Plan and a new zoning ordinance to implement that plans goals, policies, and regulations. Commercial zoning allows for residential occupancy as a conditional use in conjunction with a predominant commercial development.
City Administrator Patrick Munyan Jr. said he understands the points Kacena is making but noted, "If there is more residential [use in the downtown Commercial District], there become more issues with parking."
The City Council, at City Attorney Ken Woodrich's suggestion, concluded the discussion by agreeing to ask the Planning Commission to revisit the Commercial District zoning with the understanding the council "would like to see the zoning in the commercial zone more balanced to reflect an updated live/work space environment."
In other business, the City Council unanimously approved a new resolution offering the city's support for creation of a countywide Emergency Medical Services District. The new resolution included up-to-date levy information on the cost per $1,000 of assessed property value.
The council also tabled approval of swimming pool fees for 2013. Pool manager Suzie Willey advised councilors the rates will be different this season for city residents and non-residents. Woodrich recommended the fee schedule be attached to a resolution for council consideration during its next meeting on May 1.