Sequim sub-area plan remains in limbo

Sequim’s sub-area plan isn’t dead. It’s sleeping, but soon it will be brought back into the council spotlight.

The city council has agreed to devote the entire June 2 study session to discussing the proposed sub-area plan.

“I think it’s going to take all two and a half hours and then some,” Councilman Ken Hays said during the council’s May 5 study session.

The decision came after Sequim’s capital projects manager Frank Needham suggested the city hire architectural firm Arai Jackson to review the plan and provide the council with graphics to better illustrate the plan’s proposed vision. The council members were against the idea, many saying that the city could not afford to spend money on another consultant.

“We’re not a cash-rich city to be throwing money around,” Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen said.

Needham said that city staff was looking for guidance from the council on how to proceed with the proposed plan.

It wasn’t always like this. In January, the city’s proposed sub-area plan was a hot topic and moving forward. Sequim’s planning commission had granted its approval, recommending that the council adopt the plan and Needham set off on a week of public meetings. Once the plan came before the council in February, though, it hit a roadblock. Rather than vote to approve the plan, the council agreed to review it a few chapters at a time. A schedule was drawn up but not a single review session took place.

“Right now we’re on hold,” Needham told audience members at the council’s April 28 town hall meeting.

The delay has had some wondering whether the plan is ever going to be voted on or is it destined to collect dust? “It’s been shelved before; why not shelf it again and have our downtown developed all willy nilly?” Councilman Bill Huizinga asked recently.

The proposed sub-area plan sets out to create a pedestrian-friendly town center, largely retaining the current look of Sequim’s town center with small, independently owned businesses lining the main corridors, while increasing commercial and residential opportunities as well as open space. This is carried out through the creation of two zoning districts: town center-commercial (TC-C) and town center higher density residential (TC-HDN). TC-C would allow for mixed-use parcels such as a building with a store on the first floor, office space on the second and apartments located on the third. TC-HDHN would be solely residential.

The two proposed zoning districts share something in common — high density — a concept the council majority hasn’t warmed up to.

Buildings in the TC-C zone would be allowed a maximum height of 65 feet, while residential units in the TC-HDN zone would be a maximum height of 50 feet. That means Sequim potentially could have five-story buildings in its future.

“Building up would instantly make a canyon effect,” Lorenzen said during the April 28 meeting. To Lorenzen and in many others’ minds, the question is how can Sequim maintain its rural atmosphere with five-story buildings?

Councilman Ken Hays suggested that Sequim’s Citizens Advisory Committee be responsible for gathering citizen input regarding the plan. The committee, however, doesn’t exist yet. There’s only an interim group and its only objective is to create a standing Citizens Advisory Committee.

“If it’s going back to the group, shouldn’t it be going back to the planning commission?” Councilman Paul McHugh asked. McHugh said that he’s always been opposed to the committee’s creation because he does not find it necessary, instead stepping on the toes of the planning commission and city council. “I don’t know why we’re so anxious to keep the planning commission and city council from the public process. It’s our job. Let’s get our job done.”

The council agreed to reserve its June 2 study session solely for discussion of the proposed sub-area plan.

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