Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The Recap Whistle

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The Whistle threw a party (of sorts) and you came! Thank you to the approximately 80 people who took time from their full lives to gather at the Firehall on May 8 where we listened and learned from each other. You came from the city limits, the UGA and beyond, joined by elected officials Shon Smith, Carl Florea, Zeke Reister, Clint Strand, Anne Hessberg and Jason Lundgren. Colin Forsyth of Leavenworth’s PlanningCommission also attended. The evening was organized around an artful slide deck prepared by Duane Goehner with Whistle Team member Paula Strozyk and Kirvil Skinnarland of RC3. In the next several weeks we’ll get the deck up on the Whistle site at LWhistle.com. Please continue to check there for all the columns and updates.

We begin our recap with a question. Were you aware that the planned growth for Leavenworth has an additional 110 living units by 2040? Our village is rapidly blowing past that Housing Action Plan goal. In fact, with the addition of Alpenglow off Ski Hill, and Leavenworth Meadows below Club West, combined with ongoing infill in the city limits and UGA, we are faced with minimum of 460 additional new dwellings within the next five years!

If two people inhabit each dwelling, our population is slated to increase by 920. In a town of 2,600 people, that’s a big deal. When community meeting participants were asked how they felt about the number of residents this valley can hold the show of hands were unanimous. We are at capacity or near capacity at this time.

One of the issues with this level of growth is infrastructure: the water, sewer, roads and other foundational elements for which the city is responsible. Whistle blown! A state transportation agency has determined Leavenworth has the third worst city roads in the state. A study done through our Public Works Department has determined we have 220 city blocks, each of which will take about $1 million to bring all of the infrastructure up to standard. Our water and sewer infrastructure are already nearing capacity. During the heat of summer months and high tourist season, the City’s water distribution system may not meet the peak demand. During those same peak times our sewer system is nearing 85% capacity—a red flag for the Department of Ecology.

When asked if Leavenworth's existing infrastructure can handle an additional 500 more residents at the meeting, not a single hand was raised. Another show of hands regarding affordability was telling. Approximately half of those in attendance supported affordable housing as part of the City’s efforts (although there was some question about what “affordable” means at this point). The Planning Commission and City Council have long stated that density will increase affordable options. However, when the community was asked if they believe that density enabling initiatives like zero lot lines, infilling existing neighborhoods and encouraging ADU’s create more affordability, not one person in the room raised a hand. Of course, the Whistle has been saying this over and over. Density does not equal affordability in Leavenworth!

Dear Urban Growth Area or UGA people. Thank you for showing up, and thank you for admitting out loud that you feel powerless. Although your location is identified as the next phase of city growth, and you are impacted by City zones, you have no means to vote on those decisions at a city level. We will devote a further column to this topic.

Right now, you seem predominately happy about Chelan County denying the City’s efforts to rezone your areas for density. We are interested to hear more on this subject from our readers, particularly since the City of Leavenworth is suing the County to force that densification into the UGA. The area includes upper Ski Hill and off Riverbend Drive behind Safeway. To summarize, do you know what density equals? The need for more infrastructure! To those who attended Monday’s gathering and to our readers, friends and neighbors who were not able to attend, we know we’ve only touched on the issues. Please continue to pay attention to what is happening and what is to come. For instance, at the May 9 Council meeting, new driveway and setback standards were approved, giving access to multiple properties. The code was also approved to use alleys as preferred access to the property, as long as the homeowner signs a waiver releasing the city from responsibility for associated alley maintenance!

It’s time to attend meetings, speak up and watch for potential code changes on the current docket. Being considered: triplexes and townhomes in any neighborhood, using “unit lot development” which will enable condos with multiple people to own homes on a single lot, as well as creating a Multi Family Tax Exemption (MFTE) giving tax breaks to developers to build housing deemed “affordable” while shifting the tax to the rest to Leavenworth’s taxpayers.

Virtually every person in the room on May 8 raised hands to declare that City Leadership has prioritized a vision that is not a reality within Leavenworth’s rural setting, that the City has not effectively brought the community along in the process of forming the future vision for Leavenworth, and that they have not captured the community’s desires for future growth. Elected officials had no comment during the session. However, most made themselves available for an hour afterward and engaged in many discussions with attendees. That’s what we like to see! We encourage everyone to keep talking, sharing ideas, attending meetings, and communicating with us via our website LWhistle.com. Keep whistling. We hear you!

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