Citizen input, managing growth top council goals

It was an exercise in getting along and seeing eye to eye as much as a time to contemplate policy, but it’s too soon to tell whether the Sequim City Council’s April 12 goal setting meeting will have any real effect.

By the time council members exited the Transit Center Saturday afternoon, increasing citizen participation and managing growth were at the top of the priority list, but issues such as affordable housing and the city’s proposed sub-area plan had yet to be resolved.

Sitting at a conference table in the center of the room, surrounded by staff, the council met to prioritize objectives, or, as facilitator Steve Nolen put it, “set a series of events that we want to see next year.”

Nolen works with the consulting group Prothman, but was at one point a city manager. He also has a background in journalism.

Councilman Paul McHugh was absent from the meeting.

“It would be nice to accomplish everything here, but can we?” Mayor Laura Dubois asked, adding that the real goal was to focus on things in order to direct staff.

Under Nolen’s direction, the council spent the morning hashing out its priorities, what issues they believed needed to be resolved more urgently than others. Among the council’s priorities were managing growth, creating funding options for streets and infrastructure, educating and actively engaging the Sequim community and affordable housing.

In the afternoon, council members worked with Nolen to develop specific strategies in order to achieve their goals.

While affordable housing may be among the council’s top priorities, members are divided on whether creating inclusionary zoning is in the city’s best interest.

Mandatory, inclusionary zoning would require developers to include a small percentage of affordable housing in their residential projects.

Councilman Walt Schubert asked if the council really supported the measure. While the majority of council agreed that affordable housing was needed in Sequim, some expressed concern over possible density issues and whether proposed incentives to developers would actually hurt the city.

“I agree with the concept, but I don’t think we need to give everything away to get it,” Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen said.

Councilman Erik Erichsen felt that Sequim already had enough affordable housing.

“The word I object to is mandatory. I don’t want anyone telling me how to spend my money.” Erichsen said.

According to Councilman Bill Huizinga, who chairs the city’s affordable housing sub-committee, a needs analysis study will be required in order to move forward with the project. Council directed staff to hire a consultant to conduct the study.

One of the major issues broached during council’s goal setting meeting was increasing citizen involvement. “People speak, but they’re not heard,” Lorenzen said.

The council brainstormed a number of means of getting residents more involved, from holding meetings in various

Sequim neighborhoods to creating surveys and forms, even going to Sequim High School to get more young people involved in local government.

While discussing growth management, council hit a roadblock in negotiations when the subject of the city’s proposed sub-area plan came to the table.

“It feels like, if approved, someone will be allowed to come in, buy entire blocks and build five-story buildings,” said Councilman Ken Hays. He added, “It has the tone of bulldoze and start from scratch.”

Schubert said that he wanted to see the entire sub-area plan process completed by 2009. He added that he was confident in the plan’s present state and would approve it if it were brought forward for a vote.

City Manager Bill Elliott asked if council wanted the plan shelved for a while.

“It’s been shelved before, why not shelve it again and have our downtown developed all willy-nilly?” Huizinga said.

The council eventually asked staff to bring forward parts of the proposed plan for its review and to include a number of graphics with subsequent presentations.

“Council’s directed me three different ways now,” special projects manager Frank Needham said.

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