The Washington Planning and Zoning Commission is not ready to make a recommendation to amend subdivision codes for affordable housing in the city.
Members listened to a discussion on suggested architectural controls and discussed lot sizes and street widths in new subdivisions during their Monday night meeting.
Cameron Lueken, a spokesperson for developers and builders, suggested the affordable homes have a minimum of several controls, including 1,200 square feet on the main floor, a 6/12 roof pitch, two-car garage, 20-square-foot front porch, two offsets/gables in front and a 50 percent brick/stone on front facing facade.
Other code modification suggestions included a minimum depth of front yard of 25 feet, side yard of 5 feet, lot area of 6,000 square feet and lot yield of no more than one unit per 7,000 square feet per total platted area excluding street right of way and minimum lot width of 50 feet.
Lueken said it’s important to have some sort of controls to make the homes look nice and still be affordable.
Samantha Cerutti Wacker, commission member, expressed concerns that the suggested controls may be too strict.
“It almost reads like we’re encouraging (the homes) to be cookie cutter,” she said. “Some of the prettiest houses in Washington are frame houses.”
Wacker also questioned whether the controls would be the same for two-story homes and whether two-car garages were even necessary.
“My concern is that there’s still going to be a price differential because it’s Washington. Are we really going to serve our purpose?,” she asked, adding that maybe $150,000 for a home is a better starting point.
Some families only have one car, and still need an affordable home, she said.
“We’re trying to get the best bang for our buck yet still have a good product,” said Shawn Mayall of S-K Contractors, who has been helping with the discussions.
Lueken said they are trying to avoid tract homes, as well as builders from outside the area coming in and building cheap tract homes when they don’t necessarily care about the way Washington looks.
Dan Boyce, city engineer, said he had concerns with codifying a two-car garage.
“People should have the opportunity to buy a home with a one-car garage,” he said.
John Borgmann, commission member, said he favored the idea of architectural flexibility.
Other board members said resale may become a problem if there aren’t any controls.
Homes built with the new modifications would range in price from about $165,000 to $199,000.
Mayall said that price range may still be higher, but will be more comparable to neighboring communities. Now, Union is about 30 percent cheaper to build a home than in Washington, he said, and the modifications will help close the large gap in pricing between the communities.
Current codes call for larger lots and wider streets, which all figure into the higher cost. The codes do not have architectural controls, but focus more on safety.
The possibility of creating a committee for further study was brought up a second time since discussions began. Earlier, members agreed that a committee wouldn’t be necessary, but commission members had doubts as to whether they were understanding the market properly.
Others agreed that they would like to hear from real estate agents, mortgage brokers and others who are “on the front lines” and get their input.
“If we’re going to do this, we need to be serious about it and not just create another district that will not do anything about the problem,” Wacker said.
Commission members thanked those who worked to collect data. Mayor Sandy Lucy called the data valuable and said the city appreciates the work.
“We would like to look forward to see where this is going to take us down the road,” she said. “What we decide is going to impact what we look like five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. I understand the urgency.”
Others agreed that they wanted to see the data, even if it meant stretching the time line a little bit.
While everyone agreed that time is of the essence, commission members felt more time and study was needed.
“The subdivision code was put together over decades,” Boyce said. “ There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that depend on each other. We would like to have an all-encompassing recommendation considering all aspects of this.
Whatever we do here — the effects are going to be long-lasting. I think we need to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.”
Jim Briggs, city administrator, told the committee he had spoken with PGAV consulting firm on the possibility of getting a scope of services and proposal to collect demographics, school district information, income levels compared to other communities and other data to help make the decision.
PGAV would “bring all the layers together and compare them,” Briggs said, adding he’s not yet sure of the fees associated with having the study done.
PGAV has worked with the city of Washington on other projects, including the Phoenix Center and the new Wal-Mart store.
Having an independent company look at the data would keep out biases and help move the plan forward.
“They are unbiased. They don’t have anything to gain, either way. They bring impartiality,” he said.
Mark Piontek, city attorney, noted that it’s been at least 30 years since there was a comprehensive review of the zoning codes in the city of Washington.
“We’ve made changes to address particular issues as they’ve come up,” he said. “I’ve thought for a long time we ought to have a comprehensive review of our zoning code.”
Now, he said, may be an appropriate time for the review.
Commission members agreed that a time frame and budget for the services should be explored. A special meeting may be called to decide whether or not to move forward once the time frame and budget are nailed down.