New state housing laws prompt city code changes

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With Avalon facing a growing housing crisis, the Avalon Planning Commission met with the city Council this week to urgently update their own housing ordinances to comply with changes in state law recently approved by the legislature.

The state has adopted new housing ordinances, said Planning Director Amanda Cook, and “these new housing statutes “make our municipal code obsolete … non-compliant, to say it diplomatically.”

“We are going to keep this discussion on a high level,” she said, introducing the council and the commission.

The city council and the planning commission engaged in a lively, two-hour conversation regarding the new laws and how they will impact housing development on the island.

Also attending the session was Elizabeth Hull, of BBK Law who has long advised Avalon on its broader housing policy and codes.

Hull explained in detail changes made by the state legislature and the new required ordinances. She too said some Avalon housing ordinances were “out of date; by a lot.” She said the state legislature “made a boatload of changes” to housing law.

The discussion mostly centered on the three main legal changes and how they should be applied to local housing development policies, bonus density units, inclusionary housing units and accessory dwelling units.

Hull explained to the group the new legal definitions, in detail, to the group. Developers now have the right cities for “bonus dwellings,” meaning have more units in a development project than building codes would ordinarily have allowed.

If allowed, they come with strict restrictions on income qualifications, said Hull, asking the council and commissioners questions about making it specific to Avalon.

She also explained to them the definitions and criteria of the new Inclusionary Housing Unit provisions as well as the Accessory Dwelling Units. Avalon’s existing housing ordinances has no provisions at all for Accessory Dwelling Units (shared, yet independent living spaces).

Mayor Anni Marshall expressed concern that the city would get some “pushback” if they adopted some of the proposed law as is without adapting it to the island.

Council member Pam Albers, an attorney, questioned specific provisions in the law and what impact they might have on developer fees and she remarked that housing policy continues to evolve and had almost gone full circle.

Hull explained the “must-dos” and where the city could have some “discretion” in adopting the new state measures. She also provided a recap of the many court cases that had significant impact on state housing law.

The group engaged in a lively exchange about how vehicle permits should be awarded in tandem with any new housing permits under the new laws.

Hull and Cook made note of the entire discussion and the many changes and details suggested at various points in the discussion and will use them to draft new ordinances for eventual city consideration.

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