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June 14, 2021

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Infrastructure improvements top list as Battle Ground develops housing plan

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:
5 Photos
A children's playground and homes are pictured in a neighborhood in northeast Battle Ground on Wednesday morning. Infrastructure is at the top of the list of the city's draft housing action plan.
A children's playground and homes are pictured in a neighborhood in northeast Battle Ground on Wednesday morning. Infrastructure is at the top of the list of the city's draft housing action plan. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Infrastructure investments top a lengthy list of priorities as Battle Ground develops a plan to address its housing needs.

The city has been working on a five-year housing action plan since October. The Battle Ground Planning Commission is expected to make a formal recommendation on the plan at its meeting Wednesday, and the City Council could approve the plan on June 21.

The city has contracted with Seattle-based BERK Consulting for the study and plan draft. A state Department of Commerce grant funded the process.

In addition to the council, planning commission and city staff, an advisory committee has provided input. The advisory committee includes representatives from the fields of nonprofit, development, architecture, community planning, engineering, faith and education.

Those leading the development of the plan also heard from more than 370 members of the public through a survey, forum and interviews.

Others specifically expressed a desire to see subsidized or low-income housing.

“My son is autistic and is on limited income. Battle Ground desperately needs low income housing,” one response read. “He now is living in a one-bedroom apartment and soon will have to give it up when the next lease comes up, due to rent increases.”

At least 13 respondents indicated a need for more affordable housing for single parents. One respondent said she needed to leave the city with her child before getting married and moving back.

“I’ve lived in Battle Ground my whole life. I’m college educated, and at one point I wasn’t able to afford housing in Battle Ground,” the response read. “It felt like the community I had been raised in, the community I loved and wanted to be a part of was inaccessible to me simply because I didn’t make enough money.”

The city’s population rose about 19 percent — to just over 21,500 people — between 2010 and 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Additionally, consultants found that home values rose 64 percent in the most recent complete decade. Meanwhile, the areawide median family income rose just 29 percent.

Since 2015, the city has averaged 186 permitted housing units per year, an uptick from a rate of 88 per year in the previous five-year period. But over the next 15 years, 686 units will need to arise annually to meet housing needs, consultants found.

Additionally, nearly 80 percent of housing is found in single-family homes, and 14 percent are multifamily buildings of at least five units.

“A larger variety of housing types that fill the gap between multifamily and single family would provide more options to seniors, entry level home purchasers, single income households, and households of varied size,” the draft plan reads.

The plan includes a list of 23 priorities. Investing in infrastructure, which would make properties easier to develop, is at the top of the list.

“Cities can strategically invest in infrastructure to reduce one of the most significant costs associated with development: the cost of upgrading existing or developing new infrastructure to serve development,” the plan reads.

To fund such projects, the plan includes a suggestion to implement community revitalization financing. Similar programs have allowed cities to create tax “increment areas” to finance public improvements within the area using increased revenues generated from local property taxes. They are best used in undeveloped and underdeveloped areas, according to consultants.

Zoning

Second on the list is removing code and zoning barriers. Specifically, consultants found a need to create “middle housing” — or housing such as duplexes, multiplexes and smaller apartment or condominium projects that fill the gap between the current trend toward single-family and large multifamily residences.

For instance, some zoning designations could be switched from “single-family” to “low-density” residential.

“Battle Ground’s zoning code does not prohibit missing middle housing, but there are opportunities to improve development feasibility, including adding language to clearly delineate where middle housing should be allowed, and where they are feasible,” the plan reads. “Code standards such as density limits, lot size minimums, setbacks, and parking requirements, along with a lack of code support, discourages its construction.”

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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