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News / Clark County News

More homes, more affordability is idea behind Clark County’s proposed housing code changes

Residents invited to participate in upcoming meetings

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: March 26, 2023, 6:00am

Clark County officials are mulling over a new housing code amendment to add more affordable units to specific neighborhoods.

On Thursday evening, officials from the county-appointed Project Advisory Group met to discuss the first batch of proposed changes related to middle housing identified in the Housing Options Study and Action Plan. In March 2022, the county council approved the study and plan to encourage the development of affordable homes for various household incomes.

Each proposed change targets the county’s low-density, urban residential zones in the Vancouver metropolitan growth area.

The housing code amendment project is not intended to be a solution to making every home in Clark County affordable. Instead, the proposals aim to allow more flexibility for the market to provide diverse housing options at prices more cost-efficient to residents.

“Zoning is really one tool among many that can support more housing development,” said Elizabeth Decker, a land-use planning consultant for JET planning.

The first part of the proposed plan includes the following:

More housing diversity in more neighborhoods

Like other communities in Washington, Clark County is feeling the heat from rising housing prices. According to Redfin data, the median house price in the county is $508,000.

One of the main changes touched on during Thursday’s meeting is the plan to provide a more diverse housing landscape in the county’s urban areas.

“This project is focused on the low-density urban residential zones, which make up the vast majority of the zoned land and the buildable land in the county,” Decker said. “So we really have a huge opportunity there, in terms of providing more variety within those areas — that can better meet the housing needs, as the household formation and population continues to grow.”

The proposed changes would allow duplexes, townhouses and cottage housing to be available to all zones targeted in the plan. Triplexes and quadplexes would be eligible in select zones.

New compact lot development would also be available in all zones proposed in the project, which would provide more traditional “street-oriented” units on smaller property lots.

Decker noted that 76 percent of housing units in the Vancouver urban growth area are single-family homes. But 60 percent of households in Clark County are one or two people. The proposed plan would target the needs of the county’s existing population.

“That can really lend themselves better to a smaller home, rather than a four-bedroom house,” Decker said. “These smaller housing types can also really fit well in the neighborhood scale.”

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Decker said these changes also could provide more affordable options for medium-income households.

The plan would continue to permit accessory dwelling units in all zones. In some cases, two accessory dwelling units may be allowed on a deep-set lot. Accessory dwelling units are smaller units on the same lot as a single-family, duplex, triplex, townhome or other housing units. They often are referred to as “mother-in-law suites.”

Using existing land more efficiently

Another proposed change would decrease minimum property sizes in existing residential neighborhoods to allow multiple single-family homes to be built on the lot.

The land areas would be reduced by 10 to 20 percent to allow for more housing, Decker said.

“So things like the minimum width and the minimum depth (could change), as well as the amount of conversation and how much lot can be covered by a house,” Decker said.

No rezoning is proposed with this project.

Next steps

Other strategies underscored in the plan include transit-oriented developments, intergenerational housing and more housing options for senior citizens.

The next work session is scheduled for April 5.

For information on how to join and participate in the meetings, go to clark.wa.gov/councilors/clark-county-council-meetings. To review the Housing Options Study and Action Plan and to learn more about the project, go to clark.wa.gov/housingoptions.

A recording of Thursday’s meeting is available at www.cvtv.org/vid_link/35679.

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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.