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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark County mulls smaller residential lots

Suite of proposals looks to increase housing diversity in Washington

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: April 9, 2023, 6:00am

Across Washington, local governments and agencies are brainstorming ways to diversify the current housing landscape while also tackling the persistent home shortage.

The conversations come on the heels of a recent Department of Commerce update that projects Washington needs to build over 1 million homes by 2044 to keep up with projected population growth. One solution Clark County and other areas are considering is decreasing lot sizes in future neighborhoods and allowing more homes to be built on lots.

But what does it mean to add more homes on properties in Clark County?

Low density to medium density

In March, officials from the county-appointed Project Advisory Group met to discuss the first batch of proposals to create a more diverse housing landscape identified in the county’s Housing Options Study and Action Plan.

The plan aims to encourage the development of more housing options for various household incomes.

According to the action plan, lot sizes could be reduced by 10 to 20 percent when the county is looking at future construction.

“Honestly, you wouldn’t really notice the difference. They’re a pretty modest lot size reduction,” said Elizabeth Decker, a land use planning consultant from JET Planning who is working with the county on the coding amendments.

Code amendments would allow more multiple, attached units to be added to a lot, such as duplexes, triplexes or townhouses. It also creates opportunities for multiple single-family homes in what is referred to as a cottage cluster community.

Single-family detached homes will still be allowed in all the areas of Vancouver. The proposed codes do not aim to eradicate single-family homes from the area, but rather, provide more diversity.

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According to the action plan, the majority of the homes available in the county today are single-family houses and priced for bigger households. This project aims to create additional smaller homes that can meet the needs of changing and smaller households.

What areas would be impacted?

The proposed adjustments impact low-density residential zones within Vancouver’s Urban Growth area, including Hazel Dell, Salmon Creek, Felida, Pleasant Highlands, Orchards and Minnehaha.

If a community member lives in one of the neighborhoods in the plan, it doesn’t mean they will have changes to their property. There is no rezoning proposed with the amendments’ changes.

“We’re not changing the zoning map. We’re changing what’s permitted in the zones, but whatever zone a property is in is not changing. So no one’s going to wake up and find that their property is zoned differently tomorrow,” said Decker.

That doesn’t mean property owners can’t profit off the change if they are passed later this year, however.

But property owners could add an ADU, which is an accessory dwelling unit, sometimes known as a mother-in-law suite. The units are built on land that already contains a house.

While the Clark County amendment to add more houses per lot doesn’t directly focus on adding more affordable units, it will broaden the housing landscape and potentially add more development that is anticipated to be below the market price.

“Affordable means different things to different people,” said Decker. “I often say that these types of housing with smaller lot sizes are the lowercase ‘A’ affordable housing — just in the colloquial sense.”

The proposed homes on smaller lots are anticipated to be less expensive to what is on the market currently because of the decreased property sizes and housing units.

“We just presume that would be a little less expensive. But a 10 to 20 percent reduction in lot sizes when the average median home price in Clark County is about $500,000 right now is not going to translate into broadly affordable housing,” she said.

However, the smaller lot size proposal is part of a much larger and comprehensive housing options study and action plan that includes over 50 strategies. Many of the other strategies are zoned in on affordable housing.

Decker said that the proposed zoning code sets rules and eradicates barriers for future development. Yet there still needs to be work from property owners and developers to create new housing.

“Zoning is only one piece of what shapes development in the county and so the real work here is to remove some obstacles and create some new opportunity,” said Decker. “But the zoning code doesn’t pick up a hammer and build anything. It just creates options.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.