Main Street petitions to reverse city’s approval of LIHI project

Oak Harbor Main Street Association is asking a superior court judge to reverse a decision made by city council members to approve a Low Income Housing Institute development downtown.

The Main Street Association, which represents downtown merchants, filed a land-use petition against the city in Island County Superior Court Sept. 10. It seeks the revocation of permits for a 40,000-square-foot apartment project that includes 1,000 square feet of retail space on Pioneer Way.

The petition argues that merchants would be adversely affected by a predominantly residential development in the core of the “central business district;” the Main Street Association has participated in efforts to revitalize downtown by promoting thriving retail and visitor-oriented businesses, and the project would hinder that.

In a 4-3 vote, the city council approved permits for the development during its Aug. 20 meeting. Both the city’s hearing examiner and planning staff recommended approval of the project.

Arguments in the petition echo many of the concerns voiced in public meetings; many people said the project is in the wrong place and breaks city rules.

The petition states that the project isn’t consistent with the purpose and intent of the city’s central business district zone, which is “to preserve and enhance the district area with the character of the traditional center of social, cultural and retail activity.”

In addition, the petition states that the project improperly locates apartments on the ground floor and does not include a composition of mixed-use development as intended in city regulations for the district.

The petition also finds fault with a boundary line adjustment done to minimize the amount of retail space on Pioneer Way.

The city’s Development Services Department, however, analyzed the project and found it consistent with city code. The staff report states that the project qualifies as being mixed use even with only 2.5 percent dedicated to retail space since city code doesn’t mandate a specific mix of uses.

Hearing Examiner Michael Bobbink agreed.

Bobbink wrote that the boundary line adjustment isn’t problematic, but “an example of using ingenuity and flexibility to allow a meritorious project to get approval.”

The project, he wrote, “has the advantage of providing a large number of affordable housing units, helping meet that specific goal of the Comprehensive Plan, while still incorporating street front retail space.”

Oak Harbor Attorney Chris Skinner said he opposed the project, but wrote in a letter to the editor that the council made the right decision.

“Simply stated, there was no room for a ‘no’ vote in this situation,” he wrote, “because the ordinances in effect at the time this project was proposed did not clearly preclude either the proposed use or the boundary line adjustment.”

The affordable housing complex will be located near Hal Ramaley Park. At least 20 of the units would be reserved for qualifying veterans.

During a meeting following the decision, several council members bemoaned city regulations that allowed the development downtown and asked staff to look at ways to fix the code.

The council implemented a moratorium in the central business district on development with ground-floor residential or any mixed-use project with less than 33 percent retail space.

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