District 19 considers policy to address waiting list

King County Water District 19, Vashon’s largest water purveyor, is considering a new policy that would allow residential customers to supply both their main residence and a rental unit in their house or on their property with one water share.

The proposed policy would free up several shares, or water service units, as the water district calls them, enabling the district to address a decade-long waiting list that currently has 77 customers requesting 343 shares on it. Those at the top of the list would be able to get some of the freed-up shares; others — those on the list because they want to build a rental unit on their property — would no longer have to wait for a coveted share.

“The idea is that it’s a service to the customers,” said Frank Jackson, who chairs the district’s board of commissioners. “A lot of people would like it.”

Many water districts, including Seattle’s municipal service, require only one hookup for both a main house and an accessory dwelling unit, said Steve Haworth, a commissioner with District 19. “We’re finally catching up with the norm,” he said.

Water District 19 imposed a moratorium on new water shares more than a decade ago, when commissioners at the time realized its current capacity couldn’t meet the district’s peak summertime demand, as required by state law. At the time, an extra dwelling unit on a residential property needed to have its own share, and commissioners were hesitant to change that requirement, fearing it would add to a demand they already weren’t certain they could meet.

But Jack-son and Ha-

worth said they believe the district can now move in this direction — and free up some water service units — because both a new well on Beall Road and ongoing conservation measures it has encouraged customers to adopt have given the strained system more capacity.

“I didn’t think we had the water capacity to safely do it,” Haworth said of the proposed change. “It’s only now that I’ve been willing to support this policy.”

The issue, however, is likely to stir a lively debate on Vashon, where water availability has long been a contentious issue and where some fear an over-tapped water system could lead to environmental degradation.

Jim Garrison, a builder and co-owner of the Burton Water Company, called the proposed policy “a potential disaster.”

“If you had the right to one house, now all of the sudden you have the right to two,” he said. “Maybe you can do that where you have unlimited water supplies and a sewer system. But to do it on Vashon is insane.”

He said he also believed the district is opening itself up to legal action from those on the waiting list who are seeking a share to build a primary residence; such a customer, he said, might be angered if someone farther down on the list gets to leapfrog to the top.

“You’re going to give water to people who already have water, when I’ve been waiting for 15 years,” said Garrison, speaking for people who he believes would be unhappy with this policy. “I’d be in court so fast over that.”

But Haworth said water district officials have already discussed the issue with their lawyer and believe they’re on solid legal ground. What’s more, he and Jackson said, not many customers will likely be affected by the change.

About seven people are on the waiting list with a request for a water share to build an accessory dwelling unit, Jackson said. And Haworth estimated that 15 to 20 customers have two shares serving a primary residence and accessory unit.

Allowing those customers with two shares to serve their home and apartment with one share would save them money; customers currently pay a base rate of $33 per month per water share. What’s more, the district would seek to buy back those shares for around $7,000 each, the price the customers paid for them, so that it could issue them to someone else on the waiting list.

The proposed policy likely wouldn’t put much additional pressure on District 19, Haworth added. Apartments generally use far less water than a primary residence, he said. And under the proposed policy, the district would issue the shares only if the customer agreed to equip his or her rental unit with water-saving appliances.

“We can always change the policy again,” Haworth said. “If suddenly we find our capacity is being strained by this, we’ll go back.”

Emma Amiad, who approached District 19 a couple of years ago requesting the change, said she’s pleased the district is finally considering it. Amiad, a real estate agent who heads the Island’s Interfaith Council on Homelessness, said the move is necessary to create more rental housing on Vashon, housing that she says is needed for the Island’s working poor.

“We desperately need low-income housing,” she said. “We need workforce housing for our working poor and housing for our seniors, and there just isn’t any.”

Garrison took issue with Amiad’s contention that additional rental units attached to people’s homes would offer up affordable housing; most of these units, he guessed, would rent for $1,200, he said.

But Amiad disagreed, saying she believes such units could end up being among the most affordable on the Island.

What’s more, she noted, rules limit the size of the unit — they can’t be larger than 50 percent of the existing home or 1,000 square feet, whichever is smaller.

“They’re too small to be high rent,” she said. “These kinds of units are very popular. They’re supported and encouraged in many cities, counties and states all over the country.”

Public meeting

Water District 19’s commissioners will consider the proposed policy at their next meeting, to be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, at the district’s office at 17630 100th Ave. S.W.

They welcome public input.

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