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News / Clark County News

Vancouver eyes more affordable housing

Proposed updates to zoning codes are among ‘useful tools,’ planner says

By Lauren Ellenbecker, Columbian staff writer
Published: January 22, 2022, 2:28pm

City staff presented nine proposed updates to zoning codes during a virtual open house Tuesday that would allow more development of affordable housing.

Vancouver is rapidly expanding, which is increasing the need for more affordable housing. The city says increasing housing options near existing services and in accordance with demographic needs will improve Vancouver’s future growth and overall livability.

Bryan Snodgrass, Vancouver’s long-range principal planner, said current zoning codes restrict these housing options from coming into fruition.

“This work is trying to chip away and improvise some useful tools” for affordable housing, he said.

The updates being considered include implementing new zoning categories.

Specifically, a single-family R-17 zoning district standard would allow subdivisions with lots between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet. There would be flexibility for lot coverage and parking strategies.

It would also incorporate function requirements for street fronts. Reduced garage door size would allow space for on-site utilities and street parking; visible front doors would increase neighborhood security; rear alley parking would support street front activity; and limited building repetition would foster visual interest in neighborhoods, Snodgrass said.

Updated multi-family R-50 zoning would permit up to 50 units per acre, rather than the current limit of 35 units, and increase lot coverage and building height.

Proposed standards would also allow 1,600-square-foot cottage cluster housing to be built in lower-density residential spaces. City staff based the proposed code on what other local jurisdictions were doing, Snodgrass said.

There are pre-existing cottage clusters in Battle Ground, and other communities such as Ridgefield have approved the building standards.

Apartments with a shared kitchen and bathroom would be allowed in multi-family zones under the proposed code changes. These facilities are currently allowed only in medical or recovery environments.

Micro housing in higher-density areas, the expansion of accessory dwelling units, and building incentives for accessible housing are also addressed in the changes. The latter would require buildings to have wide doorways, no-step entries and bathrooms on the first floor.

Those present at the meeting voiced concerns regarding how new developments would affect historic neighborhood integrity and suggested that city staff consult with the Clark County Historical Preservation Commission. They also urged staff to be specific in code language to avoid homes getting rezoned in the future.

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“Developments don’t typically result in the tear-down of existing homes in any number,” Snodgrass said.

Most of the updates were previously recommended in a 2016 Affordable Housing Task Force report. Many of the proposed changes are in effect throughout the county and state.

To comply with state laws, the city is proposing to allow additional density for affordable housing developments on property owned by religious organizations. State law also requires reduced minimum parking standards near busy transit stops for market rate, affordable, senior or disabled housing.

Vancouver’s Planning Commission will draft codes Tuesday for updated standards for new apartments next to existing homes, faith-based affordable housing and reduced parking for apartments near transit. Oral or written feedback can be submitted to the planning commission before the meeting.

The Vancouver City Council must approve and adopt the code updates for them to take effect. Afterward, developers would go through a site-specific review process and notify nearby properties before building. If developers want to use the new zoning district standards, they will go through public hearings before the city council and planning commission.

Columbian staff writer