I respectfully believe the Main Street Association appeal of the Pioneer Way affordable housing project is misguided.
The City of Oak Harbor Planning Department said “yes,” the hearing examiner said “yes,” and the Oak Harbor City Council said “yes.”
Yes, Oak Harbor’s downtown area is struggling economically. Yes, approximately 20 percent of storefronts are either vacant or up for sale.
Yes, we have a Main Street Association that is trying to improve the economic vitality of the town. In that context, they are concerned that a potential retail property, located in the fringe of the central business district, will be used primarily as a residential facility.
However, relevant facts are:
• There has been only one retail property project in last 20 years, a restaurant;
• This particular piece of property has uncovered so many construction challenges that a retail project would not pencil out, and;
• There are many other vacant properties available if someone wanted to develop a retail project.
A secondary reason for the appeal has to do with the preconceived notion that affordable housing is really homeless housing which will be filled with people who roam the streets.
The fact is that affordable housing will be filled with local workforce, including half of the units by disabled veterans, who spend most of the day at work, and who, when they are paying income-indexed rent, will have more discretionary money available to spend.
Finally, what the Main Street Association is overlooking is that it has been shown that well-designed affordable housing often leads to district reinvestment, and I believe that this project on long-vacant land will attract others who will build market-rate development that our downtown and community need.