Planning Commission Unanimously Backs Housing Action Plan, Adds Recommendations

Commissioners Decide Plan Represents Best Practices Road Map for Addressing Affordability & Lack of Housing Diversity

Bainbridge Island’s Draft Affordable Housing Plan was recommended without reservation by the planning commission at its meeting May 25th.

All 7 members unanimously backed ECONorthwest’s draft plan and its 30 specific recommended actions to improve housing on Bainbridge.

The vote came after a public hearing and after commissioners added directional guidance to the plan ensuring its recommendations could be quickly enacted by city council and city staff. They also unanimously recommended city staff develop a memo outlining several content suggestions the commissioners had that might create clarity in the plan’s actions, and maximize it’s impact in the near and distant future.


What Is the Draft Housing Action Plan?

In a nutshell, the island has a housing affordability issue which is reaching a point of crisis. Decades of policies – or lack of policy – have led to fewer homes being built, especially those that serve diverse incomes, backgrounds, and residential-living situations.

The Draft Housing Action Plan is a concerted effort to analyze the city’s current housing inventory status, understand its housing inventory at all levels, garner community and business feedback and draw from actions and best practices around the nation to help alleviate our housing problems.

A city can do many things to address housing needs within its community. The Housing Action Plan brings the tools the city has with best-practice actions from other communities together. Here are the tools to help alleviate housing issues within the city:

  1. Providing incentives for housing production in the form of tax-breaks
  2. Policy changes to city code, permitting, and fees
  3. Technical assistance and education to developers and homeowners alike
  4. Financial support or contributing city resources and/or funds to help build housing
  5. Partnership building
  6. Research and monitoring
  7. Direct support for residents for those at risk of losing their housing

When the city’s consulting firm, EcoNorthwest, examined the housing needs by speaking with city staff, businesses, developers, and residents of all ages and backgrounds on the island, they developed six guiding principles to formulate the Housing Action Plan:

  1. Provide more diverse types of housing
  2. Increase affordable housing for low and moderate household income levels
  3. Stabilize households & prevents residential displacement
  4. Provide supportive housing for seniors and special populations
  5. Increasing housing for island workers
  6. Encourage sustainable development

Those six principles led the team to create 30 detailed actions ranging in difficulty from short-term or quick wins that could be done in the next 2 years (10 actions) to moderate goals (13 actions), to stretch goals that go into 2030 and beyond (7 actions).

The bulk of the goals support moderate or lower income housing options to help new residents move onto the island and help those in jeopardy of being displaced because of lack of affordability.


Why Now?

The need for actionable guidance comes from Bainbridge Island’s pressing need to develop affordable middle housing or housing diversity on the island in the face of recent state laws and to address years of islandwide inaction in developing housing alternatives which are causing significant pressures on the island’s ability to keep and attract diverse residents, enable businesses to attract workforce, and address capital infrastructure, public safety, and economic needs. In fact, more than 60% of our city, police, and fire/medic employees cannot afford to live here, which puts the island at-risk during emergencies, like earthquakes.

“Permanently affordable housing is the only way to counter the market forces that left unregulated will certainly create an affordability crisis, even more than we have now, in the future,” Executive Director of Housing Resources Bainbridge Phedra Elliott said. “It is also the most sustainable and effective use of land and money as any private or public subsidy benefits not only the first resident that lives in that housing but future generations as well.”

The urgency is also underpinned by the fact that Bainbridge Island has long created plans to address housing diversity and affordability but many of them have been created for-not, often shelved as plans or roadmaps without subsequent policy development.

 “It’s not much different from the previous one or the one before that, I’ve watched this all for many years,” resident John Tawresey said during the commission’s public hearing. “The recommendations made in their increasing Floor Area Ratio and density and all that kind of stuff has been consistent for 30 years and council has never acted on it. Instead, floor area ratio goes down and more restrictions come in.”

This is not just an island issue, but it’s also a state issue, so new state laws will mandate the city to commit to building a prescribed number of living units to house population growth. For a full primer on why the Draft Housing Action Plan is necessary to Bainbridge Island and intersects with larger state and national issues, please see the Chamber’s March 28th article.


What Did The Planning Commission Do?

Commissioners did listen closely and read public comments from dozens of residents and interested parties prior to their discussion. In the end, they unanimously voted to recommend the Housing Action Plan to City Council as presented and included three additional actions as presented by commissioner Sean Sullivan for City Council to consider prior to formal adoption.

“The subarea plan process is in motion and the comprehensive plan process is gaining ground or momentum and I’m hoping we can drive this excellent work directly into that as soon as possible,” Sullivan said.

  • Recommendation 1: Create a Biannual Score Card to Track Progress – Creating a rubric or a score card was brought up by several members as a way to track progress, but also to think about how they can use data to inform their prioritization of the Housing Action Plan. The rubrics outlined in sections 5.1 and 5.3 of the Draft Housing Action Plan (https://www.bainbridgewa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/17473/Draft-Housing-Action-Plan) will serve as models. Commissioners also noted that a matrix evaluating four key areas would be helpful. The areas included the impact of the action on addressing housing, whether it is a time-sensitive opportunity, what staff or city resources it would need, and identification of associated risks.
  • Recommendation 2: Directs City Staff to Prepare the Winslow and Comprehensive Plan Steering Committees With What Actions They Should Consider from the Housing Action Plan & Develop Detailed Plans To Achieve Results – A memo for the Winslow and the Comprehensive Plan steering committees would identify the specific actions within the Housing Action Plan that the subarea and comprehensive plan can tackle as near-term and long-term goals. The planning commission recommended taking advantage of the robust public process currently underway to develop island-consensus on areas where current code and policy need to be created or revised to accommodate and incentivize diverse housing options and manage growth. These committees are also tasked with evaluating how to accommodate and bring Bainbridge Island into compliance under new state population growth and housing laws like House Bill 1220 (https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?Year=2021&BillNumber=1220) from the 2021 legislature and House Bill 1110 (https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1110&Year=2023) from this year’s session.
  • Recommendation 3: Asks City Staff to Help Determine What Actions in the Housing Action Plan the Planning Commission Can Initiate – Per the city’s bylaws, the Planning Commissioners need to be tasked to take action by City Council. This memo would give City Councilmembers a detailed list of things that fall outside of actions that the Comprehensive and Winslow Subarea Plan updates may be able to do ensuring there is no duplication of effort. It also give the Planning Commission a list of actions for which they can create policy which City Council can review and enact. Planning Commissioners unanimously voted to both recommend the Housing Action Plan with the three additional recommendations that help define the process and use current process and standing committees to ensure the plan gets pushed into action as soon as possible.

Planning Commissioners also passed a second motion to refer to council, which included their thoughts on the Draft Housing Action Plan’s full content and where city staff and councilmembers could potentially add language.

  • Motion 2: Prepare a memo for City Council and the Planning Commission that reflects the actions discussed during their meeting – Throughout the meeting the planning commissioners had interest in ensuring the Draft Housing Action Plan’s content could either include or consider innovative solutions to the island’s housing issues. That included creative deed purchase programs, like Vail, Colorado has, ensuring that Floor Area Ratios and height restrictions are examined in the context of affordable housing projects, that parking and affordable workforce housing development are addressed, impact fees are examined, and that supplemental or ongoing conversations with the supply-side or builders and developers with the island remained open.

The motion was unanimously approved.


What’s Next & What Can You Do?

Whether you’re learning about this now or have already placed comment with the city, there’s still plenty left to do in the vital path forward for housing on Bainbridge. Here’s the timeline of things to come and the ways you can get involved.

  1. Complete: Public Engagement (summer/fall 2022) included stakeholder meetings and public surveys
  2. Complete: Housing Needs Assessment (summer/fall 2022) summarizes housing market dynamics, exiting policy and looks at needs in next 20 years.
  3. Complete: Housing Strategy Development (fall/winter 2022) collected input from city staff, key stake holders and city council.
  4. In process: Draft Housing Action Plan & Implementation Plan (2023)
    • Public processes at the Planning Commission and City Council levels in May and June.
  5. Next: City Council Adoption (June 30, 2023)

At any point in the process, community members can watch the Chamber newsletter to see when this will be on Council and /or Planning Commission agendas, and at any time also send feedback directly to the City’s project manager – Senior Planner Jennifer Sutton at 1-206-780-3772 or via [email protected].


Learn More:

  1. Affordable Housing Action PlanCity of Bainbridge Island
  2. Affordable Housing Action PlanEngage Bainbridge
  3. Affordable Housing Plan City Council Study Session – Timestamp: 46:32, City of Bainbridge Island
  4. Summary of Public Engagement Findings for the Housing Action PlanTriangle Associates and ECONorthwest
  5. Affordable Housing Task ForceCity of Bainbridge Island
  6. Legislative TrackerHousing Development Consortium
  7. Comprehensive PlanCity of Bainbridge Island
  8. Project Page 2024 Comprehensive Plan Periodic UpdateEngage City of Bainbridge Island
  9. Existing Winslow Subarea Plan City of Bainbridge Island
  10. Project Page Winslow Subarea Plan – Engage City of Bainbridge Island
  11. BI Businesses Need Housing For WorkersBainbridge Island Review
  12. Bainbridge To Grant Density Bonuses To Affordable Housing Projects On Religious Properties Kitsap Sun
  13. House Bill 1220 (2021) – Washington State Legislature
  14. House Bill 1110 (2023)Washington State Legislature
  15. Addressing Washington’s Housing CrisisGovernor Jay Inslee

The Chamber will also keep our members and community updated on each step of the process over the upcoming months, as well as on the Sustainable Transportation Plan, Winslow Subarea Plan, Comprehensive Plan Update, Lynwood Subarea Plan developments and more.