Sequim’s sub-area plan makes the rounds

Council to hand down its decision at the end of the month

Frank Needham, Sequim’s capital projects manager, has had a busy week, giving a number of talks throughout Sequim educating the public as to the plan’s specifics, as well as to gather any input citizens might have.

A component of the city’s comprehensive plan, the sub-area plan, if adopted by the city council, will serve as a guide for Sequim’s growth, which according to Needham, is required under the state’s Growth Management Act.

“It tells us that we have to have this density,” Needham said, explaining that under the GMA cities are required to handle the bulk of development. The GMA, for example, requires cities to eventually provide four units on one acre. “It was a stark realization when the GMA passed.”

Although as Mayor Laura Dubois countered during a Jan. 14 public hearing regarding the plan, “The Growth Management Act is exactly that, a Growth Management Act, not a Growth Promotional Act.”

The general sense of Sequim’s sub-area plan is to create a pedestrian friendly town center, largely retaining the current look of Sequim’s town center with small, shops lining the main corridors. At the same time, though, the plan proposes to increase commercial and residential opportunities as well as open space and this is accomplished by way of creating new zoning districts. This includes town center-commercial,TC-C, which would allow for mixed-use parcels such as a building with a store on the first floor, office space on the second and apartments on the third. The second proposed zoning district would be town center higher density residential, TC-HDN. Solely residential, the new zoning would offer shared parking, provide for “inclusionary zoning,” which means offering housing opportunities for different income brackets on one parcel, and would connect to the surrounding TC-C zoning via open space in the form of plazas and promenades.

“We’re supposed to look like Europe overnight,” Needham joked during one public meeting. Needham stresses, however, that the sub-area plan, if passed, is not going to yield immediate changes. Instead, the plan will span some 30 to 50 years.

“Probably very few of you will be alive when this plan reaches completion. I don’t want you to get selfish,” said resident Jacques Dulin, who supports the plan.

Councilman Paul McHugh said he disagrees with the proposed plan’s far off horizon.

“What are we going to see in two, five, 15 years?” McHugh asked, and later saying, “I’m just trying to look for incentive sooner in the game.”

Needham said that the first few years of the sub-area plan’s existence would consist of essentially laying down the ground rules; creating ordinances that will implement specific steps, incentives for developers and a timeline.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of issues residents and councilmen alike have with the proposed plan, this despite the Sequim planning commission’s approval of the plan on Jan. 8.

For example, the idea of higher density with buildings that could reach up to 65 feet in height is not a very attractive prospect for many residents. It doesn’t matter if it happens in 30 years or 30 days. People seem to fall into two groups: those who welcome the sub-area plan and the growth that comes with it and those who like Sequim exactly as it is. Planning commissioner Theodore Miller called the latter, “the nostalgia group.”

“To me that’s so jarring and downright appalling. When I first read that, I thought it was a joke,” resident Rose Bridge said regarding the possibility of high density, five-story buildings.

“The wife and I moved here from Arlington, and the reason we did was for the peace and quiet. The thought of having three, four condos next to us would turn us off,” said resident Sid Olsen, adding that living in the shadow of a five-story building would bring the value of his and others’ homes straight down.

Needham tried to assure concerned citizens that Sequim would never consist of wall-to-wall five-story apartment complexes because the sub-area plan would also include specific design guidelines in order to retain as much of Sequim’s quiet, country sensibilities as possible.

“I think some people think we’re going to become Las Vegas,” said Needham. “We’re not going to have a bunch of canyons that makes it look like New York City.”

Planning commissioner Michael East suggested that the city create an architectural control commission made up of citizens to make sure any development complied with the new guidelines.

Increased traffic and a strain on parking were also issues with residents. Although the plan talks about the possibility of shared parking agreements, and underground parking, it also envisions a community that is less reliant on cars, instead using trolleys, biking and walking. Some residents questioned whether or not that was realistic, and believed residents would still be dependent on their vehicles, no matter how many alternatives the plan proposed.

The proposed zoning also worried some citizens, who called it “blanket zoning.” What would happen to a building that was nonconforming under the new zoning? What would happen if a property switched owners? According to Needham, the planning department recently added language to the plan wherein a building that is deemed a non-conforming use can stay that way no matter how many times it switches hands, but once the building is raised, torn down or remodeled to one and a half times its original size, it will have to conform to the new zoning.

Although originally the city council was scheduled to vote on the sub-area plan on Jan. 28, all seven members, following the plan’s Jan. 14 public hearing, agreed that they needed more time with the plan — up to two months — to digest it and perhaps change a few points to their liking. McHugh suggested the council review the plan in “bite-size chunks” over the course of two or three of the council’s regularly scheduled meetings.

“I think some people think we’re going to become Las Vegas. We’re not going to have a bunch of canyons that makes it look like New York City.”

— Frank Needham, capital projects manager