City to provide incentives to encourage investment

Creating opportunities for urban villages and affordable housing

Apr 10, 2015 - by Tara Sundin

Bellingham is a growing city. My goals are to ensure that growth is
sustainable and benefits our community. At the request of City Council, I
will be proposing a package of incentives to encourage the type of
development we want to see, and where we want to see it. In addition we are
implementing several initiatives to support affordable housing city-wide.

Implementing urban village plans

One key strategy to preserve neighborhood character and accommodate
anticipated growth in Bellingham has been to target areas throughout the
city that could best absorb increased densities for development, in the form
of “urban villages.” Urban villages are activity centers that provide
pleasant living, shopping, and working environments; strong pedestrian
accessibility; adequate, well-located public spaces; a connected street
system; and a balance of retail, office, residential and service uses. To
date, six
urban village plans have been adopted by the City, including
Downtown, Old Town, the Waterfront, Fairhaven, Samish Way, and the Fountain
District.

Urban villages are important because they provide a variety of housing
choices, they strengthen the market for area businesses and provide goods
and services as well as jobs, and they promote responsible land patterns,
fulfilling the Comprehensive Plan strategy.

But despite establishing a clear vision and development regulations for
these areas, there have been mixed results with what has been constructed.
In some cases, private investment has been significant. In others, the
desired development has not happened. A number of factors influence the
development of urban villages, and the recent recession has slowed progress.
In response to these issues, City Council requested that we analyze existing
and potential incentives and provide a series of recommendations to achieve
the commerce and housing objectives in the Comprehensive Plan.

To prepare these recommendations, staff compiled incentives currently in use
by the City, along with a number of new incentives for consideration. Some
recommended urban village incentives include:

  •  Creating a graduated B&O Tax credit for new businesses
  •  Expanding multifamily tax exemptions
  •  Reducing permit and utility hook-up fees
  •  Improving the transparency of available transportation and
    school impact fee reductions
  •  Expedited permitting and specialized review teams

In April and May, City Council will review these initial recommendations,
and provide direction on which incentives to include. These will be analyzed
in more detail, then brought forward to Council individually for discussion,
public input, review, and potential adoption.

Continuing our commitment to affordable housing solutions city-wide

There are economic and in some cases regulatory challenges to
constructing single- and multi-family housing that is affordable to both
average wage-earners and low-income households. As a result , we continue to
look at ways the city can improve regulations and encourage the private
sector to build affordable housing.

Some actions currently underway include:

  •  Updating the city's subdivision code to allow for better site
    design and provide clear and consistent review processes
  •  Identifying appropriate changes to allow more flexibility in
    allowing Accessory Dwelling Units, such as a small apartment above a
    family's garage, where appropriate in the city
  •  Replacing the City’s permitting software to improve internal
    accuracy, efficiency and service
  •  Continuing to utilize Lean principles to create an even more
    efficient and clear permit process without reducing community
    involvement

I'm excited to be moving forward on making Bellingham an even greater
place to live and work. Bellingham has an outstanding quality of life that
we are all proud of and want to preserve. That includes a strong economy
where businesses can thrive and provide the kind of jobs, services, and
housing opportunities desired by the community. I believe these
recommendations will demonstrate that our community will benefit from the
investment in our urban villages and housing affordability and I am pleased
to advance these initiatives over the coming weeks and months.

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