City adds to building codes

Councilmembers and city staff last Monday added a few more changes and clarifications to the list of proposed Town Center code amendments currently under review by city staff.

The revisions to the downtown development code have been an ongoing discussion since the first two major mixed-use developments were completed without the public plazas sought by the city government. Council members are considering allowing buildings taller than five stories in order to get larger public spaces included in projects. The new provisions would require developers seeking a fifth story to provide either affordable housing; or a public plaza equal to 3 percent of the gross area, a minimum of 4,000 square feet or a pedestrian pathway.

An additional amendment proposed by Councilmember Mike Grady last Monday would require new developments to hide utility boxes. Grady suggested that new developments be required to conceal utility boxes by either placing them inside the buildings or install them underground. Grady made the suggestion in response to the two utility cabinets that exist outside the newly constructed Mercer building along 77th Avenue S.E. The amendment received strong support from the Council and was added to the list of new provisions currently under consideration.

Deputy city manager Londi Lindell pointed out that this amendment would also prohibit developers from using independent utility structures or shacks to preserve sidewalk space and retain the aesthetic of the right of way.

During a discussion about this amendment, councilmember Sven Goldmanis asked Lindell whether financial implications for the developers had been considered and questioned why the developer should absorb extra costs for a public benefit.

Lindell replied that similar language exists in an ordinance for wireless communications. “We discussed the same physical restraints for wireless communication facilities, and at that time we decided not to consider the financial implications,” she said.

In addition to Grady’s amendment, Goldmanis introduced another code revision. He suggested the Council allow taller buildings in exchange for the public plazas or affordable housing. Councilmembers, however, were not in favor of keeping the status quo and allowing a sixth story.

“If you go six stories you get a more expensive building and more tax revenue will come from that,” Goldmanis said. El Jahncke was the only other councilmember who supported adding a sixth story. However, Grady said he was willing to discuss allowing an additional story in the future in exchange for additional amenities.

Two residents asked the Council to maintain the five-story limit after Mayor Bryan Cairns opened the meeting for public comment. Councilmember Dan Grausz also reminded the Council that the idea had been discussed previously and at that time, the Council “very firmly, if not unanimously, decided five stories was enough.”

Another amendment proposed by Jahncke asked for clarification regarding the affordable housing provision. He wanted to be sure the code language would work in the real world.

“My goal is to attract the Island’s public workforce,” Jahncke said. “I want to be sure that what it says will actually mean that city employees, our police and teachers, can afford to live downtown.” Council then directed the city staff to determine the standard for affordable housing so it would attract the local public workforce employees.

The standard currently proposed is 80 percent of the county median income, or $63,000. According to the staff presentation, the median income for city employees is $60,000.

Council further asked city staff to write the provision so the permit and development fees associated with the entire fifth story would be waived to offset the permit costs of building affordable housing. Lindell also told the Council the code revisions had been clarified so that developers are required to provide only one significant public amenity if they decided to combine separate parcels for a single development. She said the code requires the public plaza to be at least 3 percent of the gross area and not less than 4,000 square feet, and that still requires a large plaza if parcels are combined.

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