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Friday, September 29, 2023
Sept. 29, 2023

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Clark County Council OKs interim ordinance easing rules on space for recreation, landscaping

Advisory board says it will help developers boost home affordability

By , Columbian staff writer
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Ted Vanegas, land use review manager for Clark County Community Planning.
Ted Vanegas, land use review manager for Clark County Community Planning. Photo Gallery

The Clark County Council on Tuesday passed an interim ordinance that would allow developers to set aside less space in multifamily projects for outdoor recreation or landscaping, possibly freeing up space to build more housing units.

The ordinance allows the county’s outdoor recreation space requirements to also meet landscape requirements. The interim ordinance will go into effect 10 days after approval and will remain in effect for six months. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at 6 p.m. on July 19.

Chair Karen Bowerman and Councilors Julie Olson and Richard Rylander Jr. voted in favor of the ordinance, while Councilors Temple Lentz and Gary Medvigy voted against.

The request for the interim ordinance came from the Development and Engineering Advisory Board to allow “developers to build more units in which they say will improve home affordability in Clark County,” according to a staff report.

County code requires multifamily developments with 12 or more residential units to have both private and shared outdoor recreation areas. Developers of certain residential properties must also set aside 20 percent of the property site for landscaping with additional setbacks or landscape requirements possible.

Outdoor recreation space requirements, which are based on the number and size of housing units, had been separate from landscaping requirements.

Ted Vanegas, land use review manager for Community Development, told the council the county has inconsistently applied the code requirements for multifamily projects. When researching how the code had previously been applied, Vanegas said around 80 percent allowed the requirements for recreation space and for landscaping to overlap.

“Due to this inconsistency, land use management reviewed this code … and determined the two requirements are intended to be separate,” he said.

While the two requirements were originally expected to be applied separately, the advisory board said the change is needed, at least temporarily, to respond to the ongoing housing shortage.

While Lentz agreed the development code should be applied consistently and appreciated staff efforts to identify and address areas where it is not, she said making this change would not benefit residents.

“Instead of applying the code that we have, we are now changing it to be more lax. I don’t really support that. We hear a lot from developers about needing to make housing more affordable. I understand and agree with that sentiment. I also think we need to be very careful not to erode the things that make quality of life here so good. And some of that is open space and the ability to enjoy the space that we’re in,” Lentz said.

Commenting on the ordinance, Vancouver resident Teresa Hardy said, “the staff’s only justification is that developers say that housing will be more affordable. However, another possible conclusion is that developers would ask for any reduction in requirements which would increase their profits or ease their construction requirements.”

Hardy said the process to approve the interim ordinance was flawed because the county provided limited opportunity for public review or comment. She also said staff had not researched the effects the reduction would have on new construction.

“Many residents may be interested or concerned about the relaxation of these standards but probably have not even heard about this yet. Caution should be exercised here,” she said.

Lentz also noted that during recent discussions around land use, the advisory board has argued “we shouldn’t be cramming people into multifamily units that don’t have adequate access to recreational space and open space.”

Lentz said she didn’t appreciate now hearing the advisory board wants to formalize a process that will reduce the amount of recreational space and open space available in multifamily developments.

For links to the July 19 meeting, or an agenda, go to https://clark.wa.gov/calendar.