Kenmore City Council seeks balance with mobile home plan

The council voted to preserve some parks and upzone others in 10 years.

For the past year, the city of Kenmore has been involved in a complex and emotional conversation about the future of the six mobile home parks within its city limits.

In October 2017, the Kenmore Planning Commission began to consider ways to preserve existing affordable housing, focusing on the parks, and on Nov. 13, 2017, council approved a six-month moratorium that paused any redevelopment of the mobile home park communities. Discussions continued at meetings in January and July, and the moratorium was extended until October 2018.

On Sept. 17, the council gave preliminary direction on the land use and financial assistance strategies to pursue for the parks. Staff presented a total of seven options for treatment of the parks based on previous discussions with the council and provided a decision-tree visual to assist them.

After a lengthy meeting and robust discussion, the council directed city staff to prepare code amendments that would preserve for the long-term the two mobile home parks by the Sammamish River (Inglewood East and Lakewood Villa), and preserve for a limited term (10 years) the four mobile home parks north of SR-522 (Lakewood, Kenmore Village, Lake Terrace and an unnamed park on Northeast 181st Street).

Council member Debra Srebnik said she was looking for a plan that would balance the needs of four groups: the mobile home park residents, the park owners, and current and future residents of Kenmore, including people who want more affordable housing options.

Council member Stacey Denuski noted that the mobile home discussion was the “first bite” of a larger conversation the community should have about affordable housing.

Many mobile home residents and other manufactured housing advocates have appeared before the council in recent months to appeal for a protective zoning overlay that would preserve the parks, which are home to many seniors, low-income families and people with disabilities.

Council member Joe Marshall and Deputy Mayor Nigel Herbig voted for all of the parks to be treated the same, but their motion failed 5-2. Herbig, who favored the protective zoning for all parks as the “most straightforward and equitable” way to preserve affordable housing, said he “reluctantly” voted for the long-term preservation of the parks on the river because it was a good option for the tenants.

Those two parks are on the larger side, with fairly new structures and owners who do not have immediate plans to sell or redevelop. They are also close to their maximum allowable density (84 percent and 88 percent).

The long-term preservation would be accomplished through protective zoning or a covenant between the city and the landowner. The landowner would be able to transfer their unused development rights (or receive “fee-in-lieu” from other developers if affordability is ensured) as compensation for the loss of redevelopment opportunities.

Herbig, Marshall and Mayor David Baker voted against the short-term preservation option for the other four parks, though it ended up passing 4-3.

The short-term preservation would be accomplished through a type of phased zoning. After 10 years, the properties would be “upzoned” to higher densities with requirements to provide some affordable housing. It would be the landowner’s choice whether or not to redevelop the park after the 10-year period. The landowner still would have to issue a one-year notice of closure of the park, per state law, if that is their plan.

The final result closely resembles the recommendation made by the commission: that the two large parks outside of downtown Kenmore be preserved, while the other four, which are nearer to the city center, be allowed to redevelop if desired by the owners.

The commission also recommended provisions that would allow for more new housing and require a percentage of new units to be comparable in number, size and cost to those replaced at the mobile home park, with a possible first right of rental for displaced mobile home park residents.

Council member Milton Curtis said that higher density housing will help make downtown Kenmore more walkable. Kenmore’s Comprehensive Plan notes that the city should “offer density bonuses and density transfers to achieve a compact, vital downtown, as well as meet environmental and affordable housing goals.”

Staff is developing the details of these proposals and will be going back to the council with proposed land use changes in the next couple of months. The planning commission and council have already heard a lot of input from the community on this topic, but there will also be more public engagement opportunities throughout the code amendment process.

Currently, the moratorium is in effect until Oct. 28. City staff will soon request that the council extend the moratorium for an additional six months, expiring in April 2019.

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