The Blaine Planning Commission voted 4-1-1 during its September 14 meeting to recommend manufactured home parks that are five acres or larger be included as a permitted use within east Blaine as long as they are limited to a smaller zoning area.
The proposal will go in front of city council for a vote. If approved by council, city staff will need to draft a zoning map and text amendment to limit the size of the allowed area for manufactured home parks. The city’s zoning amendments would go before planning commission and then council for final approval.
Commissioners Jerry Marczynski opposed and Donald Kruse abstained in the 4-1-1 vote. Marczynski said during the meeting he was against experimenting with allowing manufactured home parks in a smaller area.
“Once you allow the development to be there, it’s there in perpetuity,” Marczynski said. “I don’t think for Blaine, right now especially, that manufactured homes where lots are rented is a good plan.”
The commission was slated to vote on whether to recommend city council approve allowing large manufactured home parks in east Blaine. However, during the commission meeting, chair Calvin Armerding suggested only permitting large manufactured home parks in a section of east Blaine’s planned residential zone, which is the only zone where the parks are allowed within city limits. The zone runs east of 15th Street to city limits and from the U.S./Canada border to H Street Road.
The debate on allowing large manufactured homes in east Blaine stems from conflicts in the city’s underlying zoning code and planned unit development (PUD) code. The zoning code allows manufactured home parks but the PUD code, which allows for flexible design and more housing types, excludes manufactured home parks. PUDs are required for manufactured home park developments that are five acres or larger.
The developers of East Harbor Hills, Skip and Katie Jansen, discovered the inconsistencies in fall 2021 after talking with city officials about building a manufactured home park. The Jansens submitted a text amendment request to change the PUD code, which began going through the public process in 2022.
In the most recent update to what has become over a year of debate, city council began creating its own text amendment request to make city code consistent after the Jansens withdrew their request in late spring. The Jansens then reinstated their request in August and council approved combining its request with the Jansens during its September 11 meeting.
Planning commission then held a public hearing on the joint text amendment during its September 14 meeting. Eight people spoke during the public hearing, three of whom were in support of manufactured homes in east Blaine.
Council candidate and Salishan resident Sonia Hurt said she was in favor of manufactured home parks because they would offer a variety of housing.
Semiahmoo resident Robert Lee, who serves as executive officer of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, also supported more housing diversity to improve inventory.
“I believe Blaine is poised for incredible growth in the coming years and we need to plan wisely for it,” he said. “Part of that planning needs to include all kinds of housing to accommodate that growth so we are a well-planned and well thought out community.”
East Blaine resident Steve Ghysels said he spent his career working with high net-worth clients in the financial sector and would recommend clients build rented manufactured home parks to later sell to investment groups or a pension fund.
“This benefits high net-worth investors,” he said of manufactured home parks. “We would counsel our clients if they were talking about real estate. We would say, ‘This is a wonderful strategy to generate high net-worth.’”
East Blaine resident Erin Recke said manufactured homes are not wealth-building investments for occupants and would be owned by Canadians and investors.
“Why would we create more opportunities for people who don’t live and work in Blaine?” Recke asked.
The commission spent about an hour discussing the joint text amendment.
Commissioner Jennifer Plombon said she didn’t believe a manufactured home park would negatively impact the watershed or increase traffic more than another development, all of which are concerns east Blaine residents have brought up during the past year. But, she said, she didn’t see it as a viable way to increase affordable housing in Blaine.
“It’s hard for me to make a decision when I have no idea what’s being planned,” Plombon said. “And if this text amendment would go through without any restrictions, changes or conditions, then my concern is the next developers would not have a reason to consider that potential harm or whether it’s truly affordable.”
Armerding suggested sectioning an area of the planned residential zone for the city to pilot manufactured home parks before allowing them in the entire zone, which is about one-third of the city’s land.
“This is an issue that has many pros and many cons,” commissioner Kevin Owens said. “And we need to reduce the cons and exaggerate the pros and come up with a solution that is good for the city.”
In addition to approving planning commission’s motion, Alex Wenger, acting director of the Community Development Services Department, said city council also has the option to approve allowing large manufactured home parks within all of east Blaine, hold its own public hearing and potentially modifying the planning commission’s proposal, or remand the proposal back to the commission.
This article was updated on September 20 to correct the number of people who spoke for and against manufactured home parks during the planning commission public comment. We regret the error.
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