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News / Northwest

Kelso looks to adopt tax exemption for multifamily developers

By Brennen Kauffman, The Daily News
Published: May 22, 2023, 7:04pm

LONGVIEW — Kelso could follow Longview’s lead in using a tax exemption for affordable housing to encourage new developments in town.

The Kelso City Council Tuesday agreed to bring back a draft ordinance creating a multifamily tax exemption for developers. The decision came from the council’s second consecutive workshop dedicated to increasing the city’s housing supply, with a focus on smaller and lower-cost units.

“If we are not being forward-thinking and not allowing for more complex houses to be built, we’d be cutting off our nose to spite our face,” councilor LaDonna Page said.

Washington’s multifamily tax exemption allows cities to exempt major multifamily housing developments from paying property taxes for either 12 or 20 years, depending on their size. A minimum number of units have to be set aside for affordable housing to qualify for the exemption. The program was opened up to smaller cities in 2021 by the state Legislature.

Longview has a version of the tax exemption on the books and the Longview City Council has been discussing ways to get more use of it.

Over the course of the two workshops, the council talked about other ways the city could provide more housing including allowing duplexes and other multiunit homes in more sections of the city.

Two recently passed laws from the Legislature — one legalizing duplexes and fourplexes in most neighborhoods and another allowing easier construction of accessory dwelling units — do not apply in Cowlitz County because the county does not follow growth management policies.

Councilman Keenan Harvey said duplexes are allowed in Kelso’s single-family residential zone for small lots but not the zone covering larger lots. Neither of the single-family zones allows for triplexes or larger developments, he said.

Mayor Mike Karnofski said he expected the expansion of duplexes would be a contentious issue and he wanted to get a lot of public comment and consideration before the issue moved ahead.

The Kelso Planning Commission is working on smaller changes that could free up more land for housing. City Planning Manager Mike Murray told the council Tuesday the commission was working with a planning consultant on a new comprehensive update to the zoning policy. Two of the major focuses of that update are special needs housing and increasing infill and housing density for the city.

Murray said the final version of the code update may not be ready until the beginning of next year.