Hearing on revisions draws comments about housing sizes
After hearing comments from about a dozen people on Twisp’s revised zoning code — most of them regarding new regulations on house sizes — Twisp’s Planning Commission decided to continue discussion of proposed zoning changes at its meeting in October.
Revisions to Twisp’s zoning code cover a wide range of zoning considerations, ranging from regulations on data mining operations to a new definition of what constitutes a “family.” But the zoning change that has drawn the most public interest would set limits on how small houses can be in different residential districts in town.
As written in the draft zoning code, the town’s residential standards would set “minimum single-family dwelling sizes” of 1,200 square feet in low-density, single family residential (R-1) districts, 800 square feet in high-density single-family residential (R-2) districts, and 500 square feet in multi-family residential (R-3) districts.
The restrictions on house sizes grew out of a controversy that began earlier this year when a 288-square-foot factory-built home was moved onto a lot on May Street, in an area of town often referred to as “school house hill” or “school hill,” near the Painter’s Addition subdivision. The neighborhood, located on a bluff behind the Methow Valley Community Center, is one of two low-density residential zones in Twisp, with minimum lot sizes of 10,000 square feet.
Some neighbors who objected to the size and appearance of the small house urged the town earlier this year to include minimum house sizes in its zoning ordinances, and the Planning Commission incorporated the house size regulations into the revised zoning code. Before becoming municipal law, the zoning code must be approved by the Planning Commission and sent to the Town Council for its approval.
In a public hearing at last Wednesday’s (Sept. 12) Planning Commission, the new minimum house sizes were endorsed by some speakers, most of them residents of the school hill neighborhood. They said the minimum house sizes would protect property values and promote conformity of homes within zoning districts.
Need for diversity
Speakers who opposed the minimum house sizes argued for the need for smaller, and therefore more-affordable homes in Twisp, for diversity of housing, and for freedom of property owners to choose what kind of residence to build. Some suggested the town set restrictions on how large homes could be.
“We have a housing crisis,” said Scot Domergue, who lives in a small home in the school hill neighborhood. “The amendments you are looking at are going to make housing more expensive … and restrict the ability of people who own lots to make their own choices. We need to respect the rights of property owners to do what they like with their property, within reason.”
“My house, which is less than 300 square feet, would definitely be non-conforming” if the minimum house size regulations are approved, Domergue added. “I’d have to quadruple the size of my house to be conforming.” (Existing homes would not be impacted by the new minimum house size standards.)
Howard Cherrington, who said he owns property in the Painter’s Addition subdivision, supported the proposed minimum house sizes. “Certainly, homes that deviate significantly in scale from those existing in an area will impact current property values, especially if you have a 1,500-square-foot home that cost you $300,000 to build and your neighbor erects a 300-square-foot home that cost $60,000 or less … on the adjoining property,” Cherrington said.
“While I support an individual’s right to choose whatever type of dwelling they desire and can afford, we are all restricted by current building and zoning codes enacted to protect the existing community’s interests and rights over an individual’s,” Cherrington said.
He said designating house sizes in specific districts achieves that goal. “The smaller the minimum lot size, the smaller the allowable minimum dwelling size,” Cherrington said.
Cherrington noted “the current trend toward smaller houses,” and suggested the town consider a new “tiny house” zoning district where homes smaller than 500 square feet could be built. That would protect property values in existing zones, he said, and “answer the concerns of critics that the minimum dwelling sizes will reduce the options for affordable housing in the town.”
Offering a different perspective, Isabelle Spohn, who said she lives in a 610-square-foot home in an R-1 zone, suggested the town instead consider limits on how large houses can be. “I like to see all types of economic levels living in my community,” she said. “I would rather see a limit on the upper side of housing. It would make room for more families.”
Dwight Filer, who operated a plumbing business in Twisp for 30 years, also suggested regulating maximum rather than minimum house sizes. Placing a limit on minimum house size “really affects young people struggling to buy a home. Consider how this might impact young people,” Filer said.
Miles Milliken said he is one of those young people Filer described. Milliken said he has rented a house on Methow Street for two years and works for a local nonprofit organization. “I would love at some point soon to not rent and to buy property here. This will affect me. I’m sorry I wouldn’t be able to be your neighbor if this passed,” Milliken said.
He urged commissioners to approve zoning that encourages “a spectrum of incomes” in different residential zones.
Sandra Strieby cited Twisp’s comprehensive plan to support her opposition to minimum housing limits. The land use element of the plan, she said, encourages “housing affordability, diversity and inclusiveness in our community.”
Strieby quoted different portions of the comprehensive plan, including a section that states, “Residential areas should be varied in density, dwelling types, and design to provide a maximum range of choice to meet the needs of diverse family sizes, age groups and income levels,” she said.
Strieby also quoted a section in the plan that reads, “With the rising cost of real estate and an increasing emphasis on lower wage, service-based employment, Twisp is in need of a variety of housing to include rentals, starter homes, condominiums and townhouses.”
“Overall, the land use direction has to do with supporting individual choice,” she said. “I don’t think the minimum house sizes tend to support that.”
Decision moved to October
Paul Barth said zoning codes are needed “to keep consistency and standards of quality” in the community. Barth, a resident of the Painter’s Addition subdivision, helped gather signatures of about 25 residents supporting the 1,200-square-foot minimum house size in R-1, and also calling for houses to be on a permanent poured concrete foundation.
Barry Stromberger, who lives on Burgar Street, in “the other R-1 zone in town,” didn’t offer an opinion on the minimum house sizes, but urged the Planning Commission to take time to consider the issue further before making a decision.
“I encourage you to pay attention to the amount of emotion and interest there is in this,” Stromberger said.
At the end of the hearing, planning commissioners chose to consider the comments further and put the zoning revisions on the October meeting agenda. “I want to mull this over,” said Commissioner Bill Tackman. He noted that the Planning Commission has been working on the new code for about three years, and “the wheels won’t come off” if the commission waits another month. The commission’s next meeting is Oct. 10 at 5 p.m.
In addition to the minimum housing sizes, the revised zoning code provides new definitions of accessory dwelling units, binding site plans, data mining operations, essential public facilities, modular/factory-built homes, what constitutes a “family,” multi-family use dwellings, nightly rentals, storage containers, temporary markets, server farms, and high-traffic and low-traffic businesses.
The code also sets new residential dwelling standards that, among other things, include the minimum house sizes and require all residential structures to have permanent foundations. The code also regulates placement of storage containers and requires wastewater treatment plans for microbreweries, breweries, distilleries and wineries. The zoning code is available on the Town of Twisp website under the Building/Planning link.