Oak Harbor staff works to clarify zoning code

Island County Superior Court ruled against Oak Harbor’s low-income housing development for downtown area in February.

The project led to an ongoing development moratorium in downtown Oak Harbor.

Judge Alan Hancock ruled that city’s zoning ordinance does not allow a project that is primarily residential in the central business district.

The case brought to light many contradictions and inconsistencies in the city’s zoning codes that staff are now attempting to resolve.

The Oak Harbor Planning Commission met on Tuesday via Zoom for its regularly scheduled meeting to discuss needed changes to the Central Business District Zone code.

“We have potential contradictory and confusing language which is definitely not something we want to have,” Associate Planner Ray Lindenburg said.

“We need to avoid that at all costs.”

He said there is confusion about how some of the terms in the code — such as “permitted use,” “primary use,” and “accessory use” — relate to each other.

He added that the code’s lack of minimum dimensional lot sizes also contributes to confusion.

“The unintended consequence of not having minimum lot sizes, whether it’s a square footage or a dimensional standard with lot width and depth, is that you can create odd lots and potential for protections strips and weird things going on,” Lindenburg said.

He said the Central Business District Zone should seek to strike a balance between residential areas and commercial areas.

“We don’t want a situation where we have too much commercial space, just like we don’t want a situation where you have too much residential space,” Lindenburg said.

Planning Commission-er Hal Hovey pointed out that a building does not need to have a residential component to be considered mixed-use.

“I could certainly see a mixed-use project where they have a commercial retail on the ground floor, office space above but no residential at all, and it’s still a mixed-use project because it’s not all retail or it’s not all residential,” Hovey said.

Another issue, according to Lindenburg, is a cascading effect of uses, where if one zone allowed for a building with a specific use, then another district would be allowed to have a building with the same use.

Lindenburg said city staff recommended the commission look at doing a zoning use table that would allow for a side by side comparison of what’s allowed in different districts.

Lindenburg also recommended that the commission reduce the code’s list of uses as many of the uses are already commercial.