Executive inks revisions to zoning plan, impacting Vashon

Changes came about because of feedback from the Vashon community.

King County Executive Dow Constantine has finalized recommended amendments to the county’s draft of the King County Comprehensive Plan for 2024, with one notable change for any developers interested in building housing in Vashon’s town core.

Constantine’s version drops the plan’s previous provision of giving developers more density if they include some affordable units in market-rate housing constructed in what the county has long called “Vashon Rural Town,” straddling Vashon Highway from Gorsuch Road to Cemetery Road.

Now, density bonuses will only be given to projects that are 100% affordable, closely mirroring a requirement first encoded in the county’s 2017 Vashon-Maury Island Subarea Plan.

A result of this change is that Constantine’s amendments now also drop a provision that market-rate developers could play a “fee-in-lieu of service” to the county — to be applied to other affordable housing in Vashon Rural Town — if they chose not to make all the units built on any given site affordable.

Chris Jensen, comprehensive planning manager for King County, said in an interview on Jan. 5 that the changes came about because of feedback from the Vashon community.

“We did hear very strongly from the community that they didn’t want the additional density unless they were getting all the affordable units along with it,” Jensen said. “They just felt it was critical — if we were going to be allowing density above what’s allowed now — that it needed to be affordable [housing].

Last summer, the Vashon Maury Island Community Council unanimously approved a resolution stating that the council had “grave concerns and opposed in-lieu fees for development on Vashon Island.”

The Council’s Town Plan Committee will meet sometime in February to review the latest iteration of the plan, said Council President Diane Emerson.

The 2017 comprehensive plan yielded zero affordable housing units from 2017 to this year — though two affordable housing projects on the island are now in the works.

Island Center Homes, a project of Vashon HouseHold now under construction at SW 188th Street and Vashon Highway, will add 40 income-qualified units to the housing inventory on Vashon when it opens in late 2024.

Construction will also begin in 2024 for Creekside Village, a 40-unit affordable apartment community on Gorsuch Road, according to islander Christopher Bric, president of the Vashon’s Shelter America Group, the nonprofit housing organization behind the project.

But if the changes proposed by Constantine are adopted by the Council — and more developers of affordable housing bite this time — the 2024 Comprehensive Plan could still possibly increase development potential.

For instance: any potential mixed-use projects — combining retail and housing — on properties zoned “Community Business,” which mostly front Vashon Highway, are now limited to 8 residential units per acre.

If the changes are approved, mixed-use projects of up to 36 units per acre could be permitted under certain circumstances and configurations, if all the units are affordable, according to Jensen.

Without higher maximum densities, the County’s Department of Local Services says, developers won’t have much incentive to build affordable housing on Vashon.

However, Jensen confirmed that developers on properties zoned “Community Business” would still be limited to a 35-foot building height requirement that might not allow them to get to those newly approved densities. The revised proposal stipulates that any additional floors above two stories be set back an additional ten feet.

The increased densities, and other proposed changes aimed at promoting affordable housing in Vashon Town, are spelled out in documents that are part of the 2024 draft comprehensive plan, viewable in its entirety at tinyurl.com/yua342wf.

Constantine’s amendments to the plan, in general, call for focusing on increasing the availability of “extremely low-to-low-income housing” rather than “very low-to-moderate housing” throughout the county.

The amendments specifically call on King County to provide incentives for higher-density residential projects in the town area, rather than merely “support increasing” those incentives, as the original plan was worded. Those projects would include housing affordable to families with incomes between 50 and 80 percent of the area median income (AMI).

Constantine’s revisions also strike a requirement that the owner-occupied units remain affordable for at least 50 years and rental units remain affordable for at least 30 years. However, Jensen explained that the requirement was only being removed from the policy because it would now be addressed in the code instead. A term requirement would still be mandated moving forward, they said.

“The new proposed provisions would still require owner-occupied units to be affordable for at least 50 years and the affordability requirement for rental units would be increased from 30 years to the life of the project,” Jensen said.

Some adopted parcel-specific densities, currently in place for the development of “mixed-use” projects in the commercial area, are recommended to be retained for application when affordable housing is not included in development proposals.

In the “Gateway” area of Vashon Rural Town, this means four dwelling units per acre in a mixed-use development on three parcels. However, in the Community Business-zoned areas in Vashon Rural Town, a maximum density without affordable units was, formerly, limited to eight dwellings per acre. The proposed revision to the plan removes that eight-unit maximum for such mixed-use projects.

No other significant changes on the island are proposed outside the Vashon Rural Town area in the Comprehensive Plan.

The updated plan is still far from final. The County Council will review the plan throughout 2024 and is slated to adopt it in December of 2024. Comments on the plan proposals can be submitted at any point throughout the Council’s review in 2024 by emailing CouncilCompPlan@kingcounty.gov.

A public meeting on the plan will also be held at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 4, at Vashon Center for the Arts.

The next opportunity for public input regards the plan’s draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is accepting public comment now through Jan. 31.

Islanders can learn more at kingcounty.gov/CompPlan, and questions can be emailed to CompPlan@kingcounty.gov.

A public hearing on the plan’s Draft Environmental Statement is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 18 by the Metropolitan King County Council’s Local Services and Land Use Committee. The meeting will be held on Zoom and in person at the County Council Chambers in the King County Courthouse, 516 3rd Ave, Room 1001, Seattle.

Information on the public hearing and how to submit public comments can be found at tinyurl.com/2p9axhyn.

Correction: A previous online version of this article erroneously contained notes that were not meant for publication. The notes did not appear in the print edition of the article. We regret the error.