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City plans to create a new Critical Areas Ordinance

Higher density might be the only viable way to protect and preserve open space, according to Sequim’s planning staff.

At the April 1 meeting of the city’s planning department, special projects manager Frank Needham announced plans for revisions to Titles 16-18 of the Sequim Municipal Code, all of which touch on environmental protection issues. Needham also said the planning department would be creating a new Critical Areas Ordinance.

He was directed by the city council in 2007 to begin the necessary work to revise the code and create a new ordinance affecting critical areas such as wetlands, streams, stream corridors, areas containing erosive slopes or with significant fish and wildlife.

Needham said the revisions are necessary for the city to comply with new state-mandated initiatives related to global warming and climate control. According to Needham, new laws direct municipalities to 1) reduce the average vehicle miles traveled and 2) bring a municipality’s workforce closer to their workplaces. Needham said creating a new Critical Areas Ordinance would make it easier for staff to fold in such initiatives.

Speaking of the current code, Needham said, “It makes it more difficult for our council to decide how to react to a developer and it makes it tougher on a property owner and developer to determine how to build on their property.”

The revised Critical Areas Ordinance would not be open to interpretation and therefore would give developers and builders a clearer sense of how to build on a property that either contains or borders critical areas. It would force developers to think about the materials they’re using and the consequences of what they want to build. It also would, according to Needham, emphasize the inclusion of open space into projects.

“It really forces the developer, the property owner and the city staff looking at that project to think about that open space and how to use that open space,” Needham said.

While Needham noted that the ordinance is meant to preserve open space, this could result in higher density — building up instead of across — or emphasizing cluster developments, which as the name suggests, group buildings closer together creating greater surrounding areas of open space.

“If you’re building on a parcel that may have a critical area, you may be forced to go up to get the density that’s required for the city and for the infrastructure,” Needham said. “It is going to force additional density that has to occur for the community, not for population, but for this issue of how do we meet the constraints of the governor’s office.”

High density has been a recent focus of debate in

Sequim. The city’s proposed Town Center Sub Area Plan, for example, which called for zoning that would allow for mixed-use buildings up to five stories, drew criticism from council members and residents who believed high density developments would alter and ruin the look of Sequim. Needham believes, however, that increasing density is not only beneficial to Sequim’s future but is absolutely necessary.

“We’ve got to be able to build more mixed use,” Needham said.

The planning department’s goal is to have a revised Critical Areas Ordinance proposal ready for the city council by 2009. As with the Sub Area Plan, Needham said he plans to hold a number of public forums to gather feedback regarding the proposed revisions.

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