Council weighs new Planning Commission report
In November 2021, the Winthrop Town Council adopted a resolution declaring a “housing crisis” and directed the Planning Commission to come up with some ideas for how to address the pressing shortage of affordable housing in the town.
The council gave the Planning Commission six months to deliver its report but, not surprisingly given the complexity of the issue and the commission’s other tasks, it took at bit longer than that. At the Jan. 18 Town Council meeting, the staff and Planning Commission’s report was unveiled, compiled after a review of the town’s Comprehensive Plan, zoning code and other regulations.
Back in 2021, the council’s resolution noted that “Solving the crisis must include addressing the spectrum of housing needs; including long-term rentals, seasonal and year-round workforce housing, affordable home ownership, and senior housing.” The resolution also pointed to the need for cooperation with other local organizations and governments that are also working on the housing challenge.
The Planning Commission report suggests some possible actions or policy changes. Among them:
• The town might consider reducing or waiving some development fees for permanently affordable housing, and revisit its fee structure for all developments.
• The definition of “neighborhood character” could be revisited to give it more objective standards and fewer subjective guidelines.
• A new mixed-use zone could more-effectively accommodate both commercial and residential uses.
• The town could provide more incentives for multi-family housing, and support a broad range of housing types including smaller houses.
• Planned developments could possible benefit from a revision of open-space requirements.
• The town could step up enforcement of its requirement that new streets be dedicated to the public, and come up with other options for a more-unified and consistent transportation plan.
• The town could allow more residential use in some commercial zones.
• The current 30-foot height restriction on buildings could be revised upward.
• The town could adopt more-stringent regulations for overnight rentals than those already in place, including a cap.
More detail is available at Town Hall.
Council members were asked by staff and the Planning Commission to offer comments about ideas they like including some that could be expedited, as well as possible changes they do not support or things that could be added. Once it receives council feedback, the Planning Commission will develop a more targeted action plan.
In memo accompanying the Planning Commission report, Town Planner Rocklynn Culp noted that Winthrop and Twisp are partnering in development of a community-wide housing action plan, funded by a state grant. That process is expected to produce some recommendations later this year that could be incorporated in the town’s thinking, Culp said.
Planning Commission member Simon Windell told the council that there is “no silver bullet” for solving the housing issue, which is “led by a lack of supply.” He there is some “low-hanging fruit” among the staff and commission suggestions — actions that can be taken relatively quickly.
He also said the town could probably expect some negative reactions along the way. “Change is hard … especially for people living near to change,” Windell said.
Council member Bill McAdow said the town needs to emphasize multi-family housing and create opportunities for more density if necessary.
Council member Ben Nelson endorsed Windell’s suggestion to “start with things we can do quickly … that are less complicated.”
Mayor Sally Ranzau added that the town needs to support its tourism industry while also making Winthrop an attractive place to live, particularly for local workers. Wendell said that is a major goal of the proposals.
Council members were not keen on increasing the existing building height restrictions.
Culp said she will incorporate the council’s comments into the planning commission’s next discussions.
In other business, the council agreed to hold a work session to discuss the town’s sewage treatment system upgrade plans, starting at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the Hen House meeting room at the Winthrop Barn. The council’s regular meeting will follow the work session.