A coalition of developers, contractors and realtors are suggesting some changes in city codes to help promote development and sales of more affordable housing in Washington.
About 20 people attended Tuesday night’s planning and zoning commission meeting to begin the discussion with city officials and presented statistics to show how population and home sales in two nearby communities have outpaced Washington in past years.
Cameron Lueken with Wunderlich Surveying and Engineering gave a power point presentation to commission members to demonstrate how the population decline and higher development costs in Washington have led people to seek more affordable housing in cities like Union and Marthasville.
For example, Washington’s population grew by 5.58 percent from 2000 to 2010 compared to 31.55 percent in Union and 35.72 percent in Marthasville.
While median household incomes in the three towns were similar — $46,161, Washington; $45,579, Union; and $43,190, Marthasville — the median home value in Washington was $155,600 compared to $134,800 in Union and $130,800 in Marthasville.
Based on that, it costs 15 percent more for a home in Washington than Union, based on those median values.
“What’s happened is an affordable housing market seepage,” Lueken told the board.
“It’s apparent that a large percentage (home buyers) are going to Marthasville and Union,” Lueken said. “People who want to live in Washington have gone to Marthasville and Union.”
Factors that affect the cost of housing include: raw ground cost; lot sizes; infrastructure costs; street pavement widths; and demand, Lueken noted in his presentation.
Currently, the city requires 10,000-square-foot lots for homes constructed in both R-1A and R-1B zoning districts. Conversely, minimum lot sizes in other cities in the area range from 6,000 to 8,400 square feet.
Kurt Unnerstall of K.J. Unnerstall Construction said the change in R-1B lots from 6,000 to 10,000 square feet came in 1993 when he was developing the Westridge Subdivision off of High Street. When development started on smaller R-1B lots on the south side of Westridge Drive there was an outcry from people who owned R-1A lots on the north side. They claimed that the smaller lots would devalue their property and the city council changed the code.
“You go and look at it now and you can’t tell the difference,” Unnerstall said.
Lueken pointed out that there are many duplex homes all around Washington that are built on 12,000-square-foot lots. The question to the city is why not allow such lots to be split for two homes separated by 10-foot-wide side yards which would result in same size homes but divided by green space, Lueken said.
Washington subdivision codes require 35-foot-wide streets compared to 28 feet in Union, 30 feet in Pacific and 26 feet in O’Fallon, according to the presentation.
The difference between Union and Washington is 25 percent more pavement resulting in more stormwater runoff and less green space in subdivisions, Lueken noted.
It also increases the cost to develop a subdivision resulting in higher housing costs.
Lueken also presented information from an Oregon study that compared 24-foot-wide and 36-foot-wide streets. That study found that there are 378 percent more accidents on 36-foot-wide streets because the narrower streets slow down traffic.
Lueken pointed to the city’s action several years ago to slow traffic on Lexington Lane by erecting traffic “chokers” at one location which reduced the width of the street at that point.
Lueken pointed out that promoting affordable housing creates jobs, stimulates commercial growth and sales, increases tax revenues, maintains communities/neighborhoods and will increase voluntary annexation.
Ways to achieve affordable housing goals include code modifications, establishing architectural controls, form committees and seek community input, Lueken said.
“You guys need to make some decisions or it won’t change,” he told board members.
“We’re just asking you to look at modifying the codes,” Lueken said.
Guy Midkiff, a developer, said he prefers the term “market housing” over “affordable housing,” and noted that everyone should put their faith in the market.
Data shows that there has been 500 percent more growth in housing sales in Union and Marthasville in the 18-64 age range than in Washington.
Midkiff said that 500 percent difference “should scare everyone. It could devastate the community.”
“I think everybody on the board is for it,” replied Tom Holdmeier, chairman.
“I’m pro smaller lots,” said Greg Skornia, member.
“I’m all for it,” remarked Councilman Jeff Mohesky, who serves on the commission. “You gave us a lot to think about. I think we want to proceed step by step.” He suggested putting the item on the board’s next meeting agenda.
Skornia said he would like to discuss street widths at the next meeting since John Borgmann, who represents the fire department, was not able to attend Tuesday night’s meeting.
“We’re all in favor of market housing to get people to stay here,” Holdmeier said.