Unlocking Kirkland’s housing diversity | Guest editorial

  • Wednesday, January 8, 2020 8:30am
  • Opinion

By Rodney Rutherford

Special to the Reporter

We’ve seen a lot of new housing in Kirkland. But as employment grows, the demand for housing grows even faster. Communities like Kirkland are looking for ways to nurture the creation of more housing that — by nature of its smaller footprint — is more affordable.

As prices climb higher for the dwindling home inventory, mid-to-low wage workers are forced into longer commutes, amplifying congestion. If these commuters were instead our neighbors, they’d already be home, off the road. Instead, they drive to homes in the exurbs, where we used to see farms and trees. Because we have no homes for them here, those fields and forests are vanishing.

Meanwhile, back in Kirkland, our Chamber of Commerce cites the lack of workforce housing as the top challenge facing local businesses today. This results in longer waits in the grocery store and closures of our favorite local shops. Kirkland has trouble attracting and retaining public service workers: teachers, police, fire and medical personnel. And public safety employees who live in distant places will be unavailable to help us when we need them most: when disaster strikes.

Furthermore, as times change, so do our needs and preferences. Households are shrinking. We want to spend less time commuting, and more time with our friends, families and hobbies. Many are seeking options for “small living,” shedding the comfortable but isolating cocoon of a large home, and spending more time in our community, strengthening our social fabric while fighting loneliness and depression. Instead of a large private yard, many prefer a small private garden, or a community playground, dog park, playfield, or pea patch. And those who have lived in Kirkland for decades are looking for ways to age in place, to stay in the neighborhoods they love.

How can we nurture a diversity of homes that best meet our modern needs and preferences?

The city is proposing land use code changes to revive less-expensive housing types that were popular and time-tested throughout most of America’s history, like cottages, duplexes, triplexes, and mother-in-law units. These are commonly found in many of our region’s most desirable historic neighborhoods.

Kirkland has allowed these housing types for many years, but few have been built because of numerous city regulations that limit their viability. To fix this, the city is proposing changes to make these housing types more viable to build. The city needs your feedback to ensure these regulations meet the modern housing needs of people who want to live here, while also ensuring new homes are compatible with our existing neighborhoods. The changes are described in two separate proposals:

The first proposal (described at http://tiny.cc/kir-adu) makes it easier to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). These provide flexible living spaces that are secondary to a traditional house, featuring their own kitchen, bathroom, living room and sleeping spaces. If you need all this space for your own household, you can use it; but if you need less space and more income, you can opt to rent out either dwelling unit. These are commonly used for in-home assistants (nanny, caretaker), college students, or for seniors to age in place. ADUs may be attached as an addition or within the existing structure, such as a mother-in-law unit, or detached as a separate building, like a carriage house or granny flat.

The second proposal (described at http://tiny.cc/kir-dtc) enables duplexes and triplexes, which look much like homes being built today, but provide separate living spaces for two or three households inside, and cottage homes, recognized by their smaller footprint, commonly clustered around shared open space as a bungalow court.

You are invited to share your thoughts on these proposals via email at PlanningCommissioners@kirklandwa.gov, or at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 23 at Kirkland City Hall.

Rodney Rutherford co-founded LiveableKirkland.org to collaboratively envision how we can accommodate everyone in our community while advancing neighborhood quality and regional sustainability. He previously served on the South Rose Hill/Bridle Trails Neighborhood Association Board, and contributed to Kirkland’s 2018 Housing Strategy Plan. In October 2019, he was appointed to the City of Kirkland Planning Commission.

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