Blaine City Council members will allow a housing development to deviate slightly from city code even though the planning commission initially denied the request.
After coming out of a 15-minute executive session at their July 23 meeting, council members voted 4-2 to approve a code variance for the developers of the Brickyard Cottage community along Peace Portal Drive, near Bayview Avenue. Council members Paul Greenough and Dennis Olason were opposed to the decision, while council member Charlie Hawkins was absent.
Andy Yeung, one of the developers behind the Brickyard Cottage homes, initially sought 4- foot-wide side yards for 20 of the 24 lots in the proposed development, whereas city code requires 8 feet. Jack Swanson, a Bellingham-based attorney representing Yeung said at the July 23 council meeting that smaller side yards would allow for more homes and higher density, which could mean more people living in Blaine.
“More taxpayers, more revenue,” Swanson said.
The original owner of the development created lots 29 feet wide, which allowed for so-called paired housing. Paired homes look similar to duplexes but are two separate dwellings placed side by side with no space between them.
Swanson said paired housing isn’t particularly attractive to buyers in today’s market, which is the reason Yeung wants to build one home per lot. The 8-foot side yard requirements would have allowed homes to be only 13 feet wide, thus necessitating a variance, Swanson explained.
“This request seems small, and I believe it is in the public interest,” Swanson said.
Planning commissioners had denied the variance in June, and commission chair David Gallion explained their reasoning to council members. Gallion said the commission believed Yeung knew the regulations and the Brickyard lot sizes, meaning he chose to impose the side yard requirements upon himself.
Gallion said commissioners also felt allowing the variance would be giving Yeung special privileges, since a 4-foot side yard variance has never been issued. Commissioners feared that creating a precedent would pave the way for smaller side yards in the future and would make new developments more clustered and constrained, he said.
“Blaine likes open spaces,” Gallion said.
That particular issue had been raised at the June commissioner meeting by planning commissioner Sue Sturgill, who asked if a precedent would be set if the variance was allowed. Blaine community planner Alex Wenger responded that all variances are precedent setting, but said it’s unlikely a variance for 29-foot lots would come up again. No other 29-foot lots exist anywhere else in the city, he said.
During the July 23 discussion, city council members asked if the option of five-foot side yards had been brought up at the planning meeting. City staff answered no, though the planning commission has granted at least one variance for 5-foot side yards in the past.
Before the final vote, council member Greenough said he was opposed because he felt the 5-foot side yard setback option was not fully discussed. Olason echoed Greenough’s sentiment.