Many locals seem to agree that the island needs more affordable housing but can’t agree where to put it.
A public hearing Tuesday before Oak Harbor Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink to consider approval of a site plan for a 51-unit mixed-use development on Pioneer Way drew an “abnormal” crowd, Bobbink said.
In about two weeks, the hearing examiner will provide his recommendation to the city council, which will decide whether to give the nonprofit developer, Low Income Housing Institute, the go-ahead.
The project has sparked tension among those in favor and against it ever since a heated community informational meeting about the development was held in April 2018.
On Tuesday, slightly more speakers expressed support for the project during public comment, but more people marked “opposed” on the sign-in sheet. Those who were opposed made the argument that historic downtown is the wrong place for this type of project. Those in favor argued that the need is dire and the city is compelled to facilitate the development of affordable housing by its comprehensive plan.
Local attorney Chris Skinner, on behalf of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce and Main Street Association, argued the project wasn’t in line with restrictions in the central business district.
“I have no doubt that the proponents are trying their very best to present a good view from the street,” Skinner said to Bobbink Tuesday. “But the bigger picture is not that it’s a pretty building, but it’s in the wrong place.”
More than 80 people attended the hearing and more than 20 people spoke.
As part of the more-than 760 page report provided to the hearing examiner, city staff recommended conditional approval and concluded the application complies with state and city criteria. Public comments — many of which were from businesses owners on Pioneer Way that were opposed to the project — comprised more than 150 pages of the report.
The units would house people who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less, which can include teachers, firefighters, cashiers, newspaper reporters and bank tellers. The median household income in Island County was projected to be $59,894 in 2018, according to state Office of Financial Management data. About 20 of the units would be reserved for qualifying veterans.
“I want to congratulate and thank the city of Oak Harbor for recommending approval on this project, and I urge your support and approval as well,” said former Mayor Jim Slowik, who also said he is a veteran.
Speakers from Island County, the school district, the Oak Harbor outpost of Veterans of Foreign Wars and Island Senior Resources said the project could benefit many local workers, families, veterans in need and seniors.
The residential units and parking would be accessible from Bayshore Drive. There is approximately 1,000 square feet of retail space planned, accessible from Pioneer.
Some argued there wasn’t enough retail in the building and claimed the proposed boundary line adjustment would create a “no persons’ land” fronting Pioneer by creating too small of a lot to be buildable. Some saw the proposed adjustment as a way to “circumvent” city codes around requiring ground-floor commercial space downtown and would create a bad precedent.
Rick Chapman, president of Coldwell Banker Tara Properties, said the resulting 18-foot deep parcel from the adjustment would be buildable and his company had just recently listed a property with similar dimensions.
Some of the letters in the public record also spoke to the perceived impact of having low-income housing nearby.
“We believe the general quality of our community will be diminished and property values will suffer,” wrote William and Roberta Shady, owners of a condo unit across the street.
“We would never have bought the condo if it had been between a sewage treatment plant and a low (income) housing development.”
City Associate Planner Ray Lindenberg said toward the conclusion of the meeting that all the details of the project had been “poured over” by staff and seem to be in compliance.
“The comp plan says that we have to provide affordable housing and that is what we are trying to do,” he said.