Hearing examiner gives nod to low-income housing

A controversial downtown project proposal won an approval recommendation from city staff and the hearing examiner.

However, the 51-unit affordable housing development with retail space on Pioneer Way won’t be able to start without approval from Oak Harbor City Council.

City Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink submitted his positive recommendation and reasoning behind the decision last Tuesday. His decision came after review of more than 750 pages of the application materials, public comments, staff notes and other documents.

There was also a long, well-attended meeting on the matter in mid June.

The proposed development would have units for people who earn 60 percent or less than the area’s median income, and there would be about 20 units reserved for veterans. Most of the residential units will be accessible from Bayshore Avenue, and there are plans for about 1,000 square feet of retail space on Pioneer Way.

In his written decision, Bobbink acknowledged significant support and opposition to the project. Oak Harbor Main Street Association members represented a large number of people against the development. They cited insufficient street-side retail, the design’s incompatibility with the central business district and a boundary line adjustment request that they viewed as an attempt to circumvent city regulations.

The mixed-use residential and retail nature of the development is favored in the central business district, according to the summary of application and decision. City code doesn’t require a specific ratio of uses for a mixed-use project and the large number of affordable housing units are an “advantage,” the summary states, because it helps meet a specific goal in the comprehensive plan.

Bobbink said he determined that the boundary line adjustment was “not especially relevant legally and overall is just another example of using ingenuity and flexibility to allow a meritorious project to get approval,” the report states.

“One man’s ‘manipulation’ is another’s flexibility.”

Bobbink also concluded that the project is consistent with the applicable design regulations and guidelines for the business district.

The Low-Income Housing Institute, a nonprofit developer, provided sufficient evidence and information showing how the proposal would fit with the “past, present and anticipated future” of downtown, Bobbink determined.

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