Kenmore Planning Commission responds to Reporter article regarding mobile home parks | Guest editorial

  • Wednesday, September 19, 2018 8:30am
  • Opinion

On July 20, this paper published an article headlined “Bothell, Kenmore look at affordable housing options.”

This letter is written to clarify and correct a statement in the article, and to highlight what we consider a significant omission in the reporting on this nuanced and complex topic.

By way of background, the Kenmore City Council tasked its advisory Planning Commission to study and make recommendations on affordable housing, specifically mobile home park communities in the city. The commission supports and commends the City Council for addressing this difficult issue, which the council is currently examining and considering numerous options.

The Reporter article included quotations from the chairperson of the commission, Douglas Nugent, made on behalf of the commission in making its recommendations on mobile park homes to council July 9.

The Reporter article included the following statement:

“‘When we set aside certain areas in favor of certain groups, mobile home parks…or seniors, we reduce further the amount of buildable land for more housing supply, which as we’ve seen economically, has had the biggest impact on stabilizing rents in this area,’ Nugent said. ‘The only way to help low-income people is through massive government subsidies or construction.’”

The first sentence in this excerpt accurately quotes chairperson Nugent. The last sentence does not. In fact, the last sentence was not said by chairperson Nugent and is the exact opposite of what he said on behalf of the commission. While one council member did suggest that massive government subsidies or zoning laws requiring preservation of mobile home parks were the only ways to provide affordable housing to low-income residents, Nugent responded,

(as the meeting recording shows):

“I respect our differences here… [But] I would disagree, and I think the commission would agree [with this], that if you’re saying the only way to help really low-income people is through massive government subsidies or [public housing] construction, this [Nugent holds up a copy of an April 10 Seattle Times article headlined “As new apartments flood the market, Seattle area sees smallest spring rent hikes in a decade”] has had more impact locally, that is the increase in supply in the market, than anything I’ve seen or that economists have said, to help improve the costs of housing in this area. And it wasn’t government subsidies or government construction.”

Some Kenmore council members also asked planning commissioners why they did not recommend a zoning change to limit current and future use of Kenmore’s mobile home parks to mobile home parks only, which would largely prohibit redevelopment of those properties (a proposal referred to as a “zoning overlay”). In response, chairperson Nugent explained the commission’s reasons for rejecting a zoning overlay. But that explanation did not appear in the Reporter article.

A primary objection of the commission to the zoning overlay was that it would, according to information provided to the commission by city of Kenmore staff, reduce the market value of the mobile home park land in the city by about 45 percent. The sum of this loss for all six of Kenmore’s mobile home parks would be about $12.6 million. Chairperson Nugent pointed out that most owners of Kenmore’s mobile home parks have provided housing for low-income Kenmore residents for decades. To enact a zoning overlay would punish those owners for a problem they not only did not cause, but have been doing the most to help. The Planning Commission also expressed concern that a zoning overlay would also discourage future investments in affordable housing in Kenmore because of the risk the city might, in the future, pass a law to preserve other affordable housing similar to a mobile home park zoning overlay.

It is important to note, however, that the commission recognized the complexities and inherently competing interests, concerns and trade-offs of this topic and balanced concern about the impacts of a zoning overlay with important considerations for current residents at Kenmore’s mobile home parks who would be displaced by redevelopment of those properties.

The commission recommended that Kenmore’s two largest mobile home parks be preserved, not with a zoning overlay, but through potential mechanisms such as “transfers of development rights” that would enable current mobile home park owners to sell their lost development rights to future housing investors that would build housing units in other areas. This would preserve certain mobile home parks, but also attempt to at least reduce the economic cost to mobile home park owners in the process.

Significantly, the commission also recommended that the other four Kenmore mobile home parks, which are nearer to the Kenmore city center, be allowed to redevelop if the owner so chooses, but with 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.

In conclusion and as noted earlier, the Kenmore Planning Commission supports and commends the Kenmore City Council for addressing and considering this difficult and complex issue.

Kenmore Planning Commission

Douglas Nugent, chair

Mark Ohrenschall, vice chair

Carol Baker

Scott McDonald

Mike Mulcare

Dennis Olson

Mike Vanderlinde

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