Accessory dwelling units, short-term rentals, mobile homes, and livability in the city were the phrases of the day at White Salmon City Council’s Feb. 5 public hearing on a recently enacted moratorium on non-single-family residential development.
In a packed council chamber, City officials heard comment from various residents and owners of property in the city who shared insight and expressed both support and dismay about the sudden decision by City officials to temporarily impose a moratorium on “all building permit applications or other land development applications” in the mobile home, single-family, single-family large lot, two-family, and multi-family residential districts within the City.
City Clerk/Treasurer Jan Brending also submitted into the record multiple written comments collected by the city prior to the meeting, both for and against the moratorium.
The City Council on Jan. 15 voted in a 4-0 fashion in favor of the moratorium. While the moratorium restricts development in each of the residential zones, the ordinance makes note that it would exempt building permits for single-family residences to be constructed on vacant parcels of land from the restrictions to preserve reasonable use of property. Other exemptions listed in the moratorium include permits and approvals for emergency repairs, those vested by contract, those for additions and alterations and remodels that do not require a site assessment review.
Mayor Marla Keethler, when first presenting the ordinance, argued the moratorium would put issues surrounding land use and zoning codes and their incompatibility with the current comprehensive plan (an update to the plan is underway per the City Planning Commission) at a higher priority than without one in place.
The lion’s share of the comments placed into the record revolved around accessory dwelling units (ADUs), the type of housing that shares a lot with a primary owner. Many spoke their concerns about how the moratorium encompasses ADU development, which in turn stifled plans to develop ADUs on their lots.
One resident urged the council to reconsider restrictions placed on ADUs indirectly through the moratorium, stating ADUs do not fit the bill of the restrictive type of housing of which the city has limited dev-elopment.
“ADUs are not developments in my view but rather an elective extension of a single-family home,” she said, also arguing that ADUs effectively increase the stock of affordable housing.
Audience members also raised concerns on livability, such as Shelly Baxter, who argued the City should work to maintain its small-town character by preserving its green spaces.
Others vocalized support of the measure, such as Chris Hipskind, a teacher at Columbia High School. Hipskind voiced his support for affordable housing, arguing children “are more successful in their development and learning when they have a stable household.”
White Salmon resident Ubaldo Hernan-dez spoke on behalf of residents at one of two mobile home zones within the city who are under threat of eviction and advocated for affordable housing. Some of those families affected attended the meeting Wednesday night.
“Affordable housing right now is not an option for the community. It’s not just an issue of the Latino community, it’s an issue of the low-income community. There is a lot of people in this area that can’t afford to live in this town anymore,” Hernandez said.
Some offered solutions, and others evaluated the situation and compared it to the goals the City laid out in the 2012 comprehensive plan.
“We’ve got to include [in the comprehensive plan update] zoning that is going to allow for affordable housing, like Rhine Village, for workers who have families,” one resident commented. Another resident called for exemptions to multi-family and two-family housing, arguing the restrictions would increase the costs of such developments in the long-term.
Tao Berman, a local developer, offered suggestions to the zoning codes the City adopted, saying “there is a balance.” He argued for a loosening of zoning regulations within the municipal code, such as the regulation on minimum parking for high-density zones.
“It makes no sense that our code currently requires a 600 square-foot apartment to have as much parking as a 6,000-square- foot house,” he said.
“I recognize what others are dealing with looking for homes. The reality is that once you put it into perspective, how difficult it is to create truly affordable housing in the market we are in. It goes all the way down the supply line. Everybody is charging more money in a market like this,” Ber-man continued.
Others argued for a zone and code review while development is ongoing, rather than imposing a moratorium.
Joel Madsen, executive director of Mid-Columbia Housing Authority and Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation, expressed support for the moratorium as a representative of the two organizations.
“[MCHA and CCHC] are supportive … not to cut off supply for an indefinite period of time. We’re supportive because we’re taking an honest look at the goals we’ve established in the comprehensive plan and looking at how your local ordinances and your laws are aligned with those goals,” Madsen said.
After the public comment period, councilors debated affordability thresholds which they were expected to approve and put into the record as findings of fact at Wednesday night’s meeting. It culminated in a motion to table the decision, as they conceded there was not enough hard data to come to a conclusion, especially in regard to the number of ADUs and short-term rentals in operation within City limits. A decision to approve the affordability threshold document was extended to the Feb. 26 meeting.