Vancouver aims for more affordable housing

City staff presented nine proposed zoning code updates Tuesday at a virtual open house that would allow for more affordable housing development.

Vancouver is growing rapidly, increasing the need for more affordable housing. The city says increasing housing options close to existing services and in line with demographic needs will improve future growth and overall livability in Vancouver.

Vancouver’s senior long-range planner Bryan Snodgrass said current zoning codes prevent those housing options from coming to fruition.

“This work tries to pare down and improvise useful tools” for affordable housing, he said.

Considered updates include the implementation of new zoning categories.

Specifically, an R-17 single-family zoning district standard would allow subdivisions with lots between 2,500 and 5,000 square feet. There would be flexibility for lot coverage and parking strategies.

It would also incorporate the functional requirements of street facades. The reduced size of the garage doors would allow room for on-site utilities and street parking; visible entrance doors would increase neighborhood security; rear driveway parking would support street front activity; and the limited repetition of buildings would promote visual interest in neighborhoods, Snodgrass said.

The updated R-50 multifamily zoning would allow up to 50 units per acre, rather than the current 35-unit limit, and would increase lot coverage and building height.

The proposed standards would also allow 1,600 square foot cottage complexes to be built in low-density residential spaces. City staff based the proposed code on what other local jurisdictions were doing, Snodgrass said.

There are pre-existing cottage clusters at Battle Ground, and other communities such as Ridgefield have approved building standards.

Apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms would be allowed in multi-family areas under proposed code changes. These installations are currently only permitted in medical or recovery environments.

Micro-housing in high-density areas, expansion of secondary suites, and incentives to build accessible housing are also addressed in the changes. The latter would require buildings to have wide doorways, stepless entrances and bathrooms on the first floor.

Those present at the meeting expressed concerns about how the new developments would affect the integrity of the historic district and suggested that city staff consult with the Clark County Historic Preservation Commission. They also urged staff to be specific in code language to prevent homes from being rezoned in the future.

“Developments don’t usually result in the dismantling of existing homes in large numbers,” Snodgrass said.

Most of the updates were already recommended in a 2016 Affordable Housing Task Force report. Many of the proposed changes are in effect across the county and state.

To comply with state laws, the city is proposing to allow additional density for affordable housing developments on properties owned by religious organizations. State law also requires reduced minimum parking standards near busy transit stops for market-priced, affordable, seniors, or disabled housing.

The Vancouver Planning Commission will draft codes on Tuesday for updated standards for new apartments next to existing homes, affordable faith-based housing and reduced parking for apartments near public transportation. Oral or written comments may be submitted to the Planning Commission prior to the meeting.

Vancouver City Council must approve and adopt updates to the code for them to come into effect. Then developers would go through a site-specific review process and notify nearby properties before building. If developers want to use the new zoning district standards, they will go through public hearings before city council and the planning commission.

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