Somewinners, some losers in council zoning decision

Published on Thu, May 4, 2006 by eg Olson

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Some winners, some losers in council zoning decision

By Meg Olson

Blaine residents gnashed their teeth in silence and crossed their fingers as city council members tried to find a compromise that would address requests of multiple viewpoints.

At a May 1 work session, city council members reviewed public testimony they had received at an April 24 public hearing and modified a planning commission recommendation for a first round of changes to the city’s comprehensive plan.

The losers in the process were residents from the south half of the Brickyard neighborhood who saw the single-family designation they had lobbied for, slip to a modified version of SF-2 that excludes duplexes but allows “paired-housing” along with single-family homes.
The winners were residents in the lettered streets, who said they would prefer SF-1, which included design standards, over SF-2, which was not in the planning commission recommendation. Under the version of SF-2 now being discussed by council, there would be no traditional duplexes allowed and design standards have been added to insure a more historic look to new homes.

Somewhere in the middle were property owners like Jason Burke, who had intended to put six condominiums on his Brickyard property, as allowed under the current zoning. “I was a little excited we didn’t get SF-1 but it’s still a loss for us,” he said. The prospect of “paired housing” might allow three homes to be built instead of six condos.
City council had little to discuss at their May 1 work session about zoning the Salishan neighborhood for single-family residences with attached accessory buildings. “It should be zoned single-family because that’s what the people have said they want,” said council member Charlie Hawkins. Neighborhood residents have lobbied the city for many years and submitted petitions, letters and survey results as evidence of strong support for the change. “To me that question is settled,” said councilmember Jason Overstreet.

Salishan Neighborhood Association vice-president Kathleen Capson said she was satisfied to see her neighborhood was headed for its single-family designation.

“It’s going to work splendidly for this neighborhood,” she said after the work session.

John Liebert was alone in saying he preferred SF-2 to SF-1 for all three of the neighborhoods. “I feel we have two obligations: one is to listen to the people who are living in these areas,” he said, “the other is to be proactive not reactive. We are reacting to these people’s wishes. We need to think about what is going to be down the road 15 years from now.” Liebert said that by allowing duplexes and paired homes, or attached units built on two separately owned, smaller lots, provided more options and affordability.

Bonnie Onyon argued that just as prime properties with water views were reserved for single-family homes on the Semiahmoo side, “there’s nothing wrong with having an area on this side for single-family homes with views,” rather than dedicating the view areas on the hill above Peace Portal Drive for higher density projects.

Overstreet felt that the owners of those prime view properties, at least three of whom were asking the city to be part of the residential/office district along Peace Portal Drive, should get full value from their properties. “We’re downzoning real, taxpaying, hardworking citizens,” he said. “This is not a fair trade.” He suggested the boundary of the zone be moved to include at least two of the lots on the edge of the proposed SF-2 zone that owners wished to see develop at a higher density.

Liebert’s position began to emerge as the middle ground that could preserve a neighborhood character but allow a somewhat higher density.

Council member Bruce Wolf said he thought the duplexes allowed under SF-2 zoning could degrade the neighborhood.
“I’m intrinsically against duplexes because that means rentals and the people have said to us they don’t want infill with rentals.”
Overstreet agreed. “If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck…”
Ely agreed. “It may walk like a duck and talk like a duck but it may be a goose,” he said, maintaining that since the units were separately owned it “eliminates the whole duplex rental thing.”

“It allows the property owner to maximize their property but it allows the single-home look,” Onyon said. With the exception of Hawkins, it was agreed the Brickyard and western lettered streets would be under the modified SF-2.

Council also chose to eliminate rules calling for designs to be compatible with neighboring buildings, retaining only specifics such as the need for front facing entries and window trim. Finally they agreed to keep height restrictions at 35’ but to allow only two full stories.

Liebert was on the side of fewer rules, especially the requirement for new homes to have a two-car garage. “We’re taking away options,” he said, especially for the smaller paired homes, which would each have only 37.5 feet of alley frontage.

Wolf agred.“A lot of people don’t have two cars,” he said.
Overstreet said garages were as much for storage of other items as for cars. “People have stuff,” he said. Galvin said he get that message from neighborhood meetings. “What I’ve heard generally is cars, stuff all over the place. We’re trying to raise the standards in our neighborhoods,” he said. There was consensus to require a minimum of a one-car garage.

A requirement for parking and garages to be off the alleys where available was also agreed upon, but public works director Steve Banham said it would mean the city needed to find a way to maintain already run-down alleyways.

Council has not yet formally approved the comprehensive plan amendments but they are poised to do so at their May 8 meeting.