Council discusses changes to Zoning Code

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

Woodinville may eliminate office zones, change the uses allowed in the industrial districts and allow new types of housing. At last week’s City Council meeting, consultants for the city suggested changes to the Zoning Code as part of the ongoing process of updating the Comprehensive Plan.

The industrial areas, particularly in the northern part of the city, are home to many types of businesses because of the low land prices there.

“We’ve got the manufacturing and industry, but we’ve also got the office space that goes along with those manufacturing uses; we’ve got our wine, beer and distilleries, which are really valuable as a Woodinville brand; we also have private schools and recreation and fitness uses and essential public facilities — all of which require the low land values, all of which we value and all of which I would not want to jeopardize in any way,” Councilmember Susan Boundy-Sanders said.

However, pressures at many levels have led some people to say industrial zones aren’t important anymore, Boundy-Sanders said.

“We have the national phenomena of the offshoring of manufacturing, which sort of fights against industrial districts,” she explained. “We have the state phenomenon of the streamlined sales tax. That means that as a revenue source for the city, the revenue value of manufacturing zones has gone down … [and] we no longer have the tax incentives to preserve those industrial lands. And we have the Growth Management Act that squeezes all our land, which makes it more expensive and makes it harder to preserve our industrial land, and to preserve low-cost land of any kind inside the Urban Growth Boundary.”

Boundy-Sanders argued that industrial land is still important for industry and manufacturing and said Woodinville has more than enough retail space to support the surrounding area.
Bob Bengford, a consultant from MAKERS Architecture and Urban Design, suggested the city eliminate the office zone category. There are only three office zones in the city, which could be converted to multi-family housing or commercial zones, he said.

“We have had those office zones for quite a while, and they haven’t really generated any office uses,” Councilmember Scott Hageman agreed. “So in my opinion, we might as well look at alternatives, because the initial thinking was, ‘Well, this is perfect for an office,’ but the market has said it’s not.”

Bengford also suggested allowing cottage housing, with a “cluster of very small units surrounded by open space.” He also recommended adding design standards for duplexes and townhouses, and perhaps allowing apartments in the general business district.

Michael Hodgins from BERK Consulting urged the Council to consider the financial impacts of the choices it makes. For example, the city should consider whether a potential land use would help increase revenue without raising tax rates, or make the city’s tax base more diverse to withstand recession.

“A key in all of this is really trying to balance ultimately what would be the tax burden of residents and businesses in the city with their level-of-service expectations, and all of that ultimately derives off that land base,” Hodgins said. “So the right mix of tax-producing land uses can actually reduce the tax burden and thus, potentially, either provide for a greater level of service or a more consistent level of service with community expectations.”

In addition to revising the content of the Zoning Code, the city will consider changing the format of the code to make it easier to use and understand. Parts of the code are too specific and parts are too vague, Bengford said. He suggested making the code more consistent, making charts easier to read and making some sections less prescriptive.

Councilmember Les Rubstello said that a list of prohibited uses in the Zoning Code might be better than a list of allowed uses.

“From my time on the Planning Commission, the struggle has always been to try to think up all of the possible allowable uses. And we make a list, and then invariably somebody comes in with something we didn’t think of that fits just fine, that’s not on the allowable list, but it’s obviously not a cemetery or a crematorium,” Rubstello said. “It seems easy for us to qualify what we don’t want in a certain area; it’s hard for us to think of all the things we might want there.”

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