Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Leavenworth Planning Commission opens discussion on condominiums in residential zoning

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LEAVENWORTH – The Planning Commission had a preliminary discussion regarding the condominium code during its Apr. 3 meeting. Commission members were introduced to an application submitted by Prusik Investments, LLC, which proposed amendments to the Leavenworth Municipal Code (LMC) to allow for condominiums in residential zones. 

“What we're talking about today is strictly an ownership change. [RCW] 64.90 is related to impacting code. So this is not about the actual buildings themselves. It's more about how do we allow people to subdivide units on land once they build it,” said Planning Commissioner James Whitesides.

The request follows recent legislation to RCW 64.90 that amended and replaced prior statutes regarding condominiums. It would allow properties to have up to three unit owners on equally shared land with an HOA agreement. However, properties would be limited in adding multiple units based on setback requirements. The benefit of including condominiums in city code was said to increase the number of units available for purchase in town versus rentals.

“These are not meant to create, quote unquote, affordable units like low-income housing or workforce housing. We don't know what the value of the properties would be in any particular case, and it would vary from property to property. But it does provide for smaller units and it provides for another avenue for ownership,” said Community Development Director Lilith Vespier.

One example Planning Commissioner Drew Foulk gave was that a current duplex in a residential zone only allows one owner to purchase both units and rent out at least one of them. The change would allow two owners to purchase each unit individually for a lesser price.

Upper Valley MEND’s Executive Director Kaylin Bettinger, who attended the meeting, was in support of the proposal.

“Changing the homeownership structure to allow for purchasing those individual units is something that would be really beneficial for our homeowners and renters,” said Bettinger. “We can rent both sides of a duplex but we can't sell them individually, and that makes building affordable housing for homeownership cost prohibitive, because we can't afford to build one home on one lot.”

However, Planning Commissioners Brian Praye and Janessa Ruckle were skeptical of the changes, both expressing concern over the source of the application. 

The proposal came from developer Pete Olson of Prusik Investments, which owns two properties on Stafford Street and two on Central Avenue. Olson requested that the amendment be considered on behalf of his duplex project, which is nearing completion. The change would allow Olson to sell each unit individually. If the application was not approved, Olson said he would likely retain the units for rental.

Both Praye and Ruckle discussed the public perception of Olson’s projects and the long-term implications of the code amendments.

“I think there's a big concern among the communities that these things are being rushed through. This is a significant change that will establish precedent and it will have implications which we will have to live with for decades,” said Ruckle.

Ruckle, Praye and City Council Member Zeke Reister all expressed concerns that a cheaper condominium would be easily bought up as a second home without anything in place to guarantee it would go towards workforce housing. However, the state constitution protecting against discrimination came into play when discussing how that would be addressed.

The Planning Commission plans to review RCW 64.90 and discuss amendment options in greater detail during next month’s meeting. The Commission meets on the first Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in City Hall. 

Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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