In a Jan. 15 meeting of the White Salmon City Council, Mayor Marla Keethler led an effort to pass an ordinance imposing a 6-month moratorium on development in all residential zoning districts within the City.

The ordinance passed through council Wednesday evening with a 4-0 vote. Though the council currently has a vacant seat, city attorney Kenneth Woodrich explained that the vote would have to be unanimous to be considered valid and have an immediate effective date.

A public hearing will be held in conjunction with the moratorium’s approval at 6 p.m. on Feb. 5 at the White Salmon Fire Hall at 119 NE Church Avenue.

“City officials are also expected to produce standards of affordability in White Salmon as a self-imposed deadline in an effort to provide more information and clarify the city’s intent,” Keethler said.

“The City Council hopes to hear from the community regarding the issues raised in the ordinance including growth and affordable housing,” a press release noted.

A key exemption to the moratorium, a press release noted, is the development of single-family residences in the RL, R1, R2 and R3 zones within the city.

Other notable exemptions to the moratorium are permits and approvals that are vested by contract, permits and approvals for government facilities and structures, as well as permits and approvals for additions, alterations or remodels to existing buildings and those for emergency repairs. One provision of the moratorium also notes that permits submitted to the city before the effective date of Jan. 15 will be honored.

The ordinance was not listed on the agenda for Wednesday night’s council meeting,and it was Mayor Keethler who requested the item be added, which the council approved by vote.

Presenting the ordinance to the council, Keethler cited a recent eviction notice that threatened the homes of thirty families within one of two mobile-home zones within the city as a catalyst for the proposal.

Keethler said the lack of attainable housing (meaning affordable, workforce and low-income housing) within the city was the chief reason behind the proposal, noting how in the city’s 2012 comprehensive plan, the report called for additional low-income housing, yet in 2006, 36 low-income housing units were replaced with 28 custom units that “do not qualify as low-income or workforce housing”.

Keethler explained that “the realization as we’ve outlined in some of those statements of our current housing policy goals that none of those have been realized in our current code, which in essence means a lot of our residential zones … [are] directly not aligning with the comprehensive plan of 2012,” further stating that  “we are going into a new comprehensive plan for 2020 that’s trying to set a vision for 2040 where this issue has increased exponentially in the last decade of a lack of affordable housing and continues to go in that direction, where we’re setting ourselves up in adopting a new comprehensive plan where I anticipate this still being a point of emphasis and having code that is possibly two comprehensive plans behind.”

“What we’re trying to address [are] issues we’re seeing in our R2, R3, and our mobile home zones specifically that are continuing unabated, that have not been tackled even though since 2012, that council and the former administration acknowledged and adopted policies and goals saying this was a point of emphasis,” Keethler said.

The moratorium is intended to address three areas, Keether said: zone review and alignment, community-driven clarity on what affordable housing looks like specific to the city, and assessing how the city uses its resources in land use decisions.

Zone review and alignment, Keether said, is a pressing issue that the moratorium would help to resolve, and would consist of “getting the zones that we currently have to align with our comprehensive plan or assessing currently as the council if that is still the direction we want to be taking the city.”

On the topic of community driven clarity, Keethler said that “We are not Seattle, so what we are talking about is not upending our entire community and everything being affordable, but figuring out what’s proportionally appropriate for our community so that it is a community of people that live here and doesn’t become one of empty houses or overpriced homes. That would come from the result of the public hearing, but I think also this should be an ongoing process, especially if we’re considering what a policy could look like to really have the deeper conversation and be an active participant instead of continually talking about this as a phrase and not seeing any action.”

Keethler said the city would use the six months to “hit the pause button on any incoming permits and make some decisions so that we have a clean start that’s fixing and matching better to what we keep saying our policy vision is.”

City clerk/treasurer Jan Brending suggested that the city is planning on drafting a vision, including goals and tasks in preparation of the public hearing.

Councilor David Lindley said “it’s really going zero-to-sixty” about implementing a six-month moratorium, to which Keethler said stronger action had to be done than before because previous legislative efforts to resolve the issue would not often come to fruition.

“I wouldn’t bring it forward if I didn’t have some confidence that we can make some inroads. I think that there would be a more determined push because we are drawing attention to this on a larger scale and chipping away at it,” Keethler said.

The White Salmon City Council also agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding in reference to state legislation which allows local use of sales and use tax for the purpose of developing affordable housing with the cities of Goldendale and Bingen and with Klickitat County during that same council meeting. According to an agenda memo, the parties agreed the most effective way to maximize the revenue was for the County to implement the legislation. The county has already adopted a resolution to implement it, while the City of Bingen is expected to sign at their next council meeting.

The White Salmon City Council had also recently approved an ordinance adopting a registration system for AirBnB-style short-term rentals which sponsor Keethler argued would put in place a way for city officials to determine the impact of short-term rentals on the local economy and housing market.

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