Council will decide fate of low-income development following public hearing

The fate of a controversial proposed low-income development in Oak Harbor will likely come down to a public hearing and determination by the city council.

Concerns raised by the public over the project’s designs and some staff comments have caused the city to require a hearing as part of the application review process, according to Steve Powers, development services director.

The Low Income Housing Institute submitted an application to the city for a 51-unit affordable-housing development on Pioneer Way that would have retail space on the ground level. The project is meant to address the island’s affordable housing crisis and 20 of its units are planned to be reserved for veterans. Research conducted by the county found a significant deficit in housing availability for low-income households.

At a meeting in April, some members of the public worried the project would attract homeless or low-income people from outside the county.

Staff determined a public hearing, conducted by the hearing examiner, is warranted for the project.

The hearing examiner will then make a recommendation to the city council who will conduct a “closed record review” and make a decision. Powers said there are “unresolved concerns” raised by the proposal around the organization and proportion of retail and residential space.

During a previous public meeting about the project, many residents and business owners thought the project didn’t belong in the city’s historic downtown.

The land, owned by the housing institute, falls under mixed-use zoning. The central business district allows a combination of residential and retail space, Powers said. To move forward, the designs would have to be altered to increase compliance with city codes.

There is also a question about a proposed boundary line adjustment on one of the parcels. He said staff determined there isn’t enough area on the parcel to issue a building permit.

“We don’t believe that, as proposed, it was approvable,” Powers said.

This means the designs will need to be altered. He said so far, the process hasn’t been unusual for such a large project and that it’s common for designs to require alterations to come into compliance.

City staff submitted comments to the nonprofit developer in early December. Powers said the city is working to answer a few questions for the institute, but there won’t be a set timeline until new designs are submitted.

“In terms of process,” he said, “the ball is in their court.”

Robin Amadon, from the Low Income Housing Institute, said the organization is currently working on re-submitting a site plan.

Amadon has said in the past that projects like this are likely to help the economy by providing housing to those that couldn’t normally afford it and putting people within walking distance of downtown shops.

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