On Thursday, February 25th, the North Bend Planning Commission considered updating the city’s current Downtown Core code.
The Planning Commission prepares and recommends coordinated plans, regulations, and restrictions for the city’s physical development. The Commission is comprised of citizens who serve as an advisory group to the City Council on issues and policies related to planning, land use regulation, and community development.
There are seven commissioners, four must live within North Bend city limits, and three may reside outside the city but inside the 98045-zip code area. They are appointed by the Mayor, confirmed by the City Council and serve four-year terms. The city of North Bend commissioners are:
• Olivia Moe, Position 1
• Judy Bilanko, Position 2
• Suzan Torguson, Position 3
• Gary Towe, Chair, Position 4
• James Boevers, Position 5
• Heather Bush, Position 6
• Scott Greenberg, Position 7
The commissioners were considering an update to the downtown core’s municipal code, including the historic district, from a Traditional zoning code to a Form-based code.
What the heck does all that mean?
Traditional zoning, the norm for the past 90 (ish) years, divides towns into districts based on permitted uses and creates specific zones where certain land uses are permitted or prohibited. The logic has been to separate industrial and residential land uses to cut down on pollution risk. While this has been helpful, it also creates problems such as segregation issues, limited housing supply and encourages urban sprawl-(the uncontrolled expansion of urban areas).
Restrictions on minimum lot sizes, strict building codes, and other traditional zoning elements have increased housing costs, limited new housing construction, worsened affordability issues, and increased the inequality divide in urban areas.
Form-based code emphasizes making sure the buildings in a neighborhood are compatible with their surroundings while letting the mix of actual activities in them be more eclectic.  The thought behind a form-based code is that it promotes walkability, encourages revitalization, helps small businesses, preserves a sense of place and promotes affordable housing.
So why change now? If it ain’t broke why fix it, am I right?
According to Jesse Reynolds, North Bend’s Economic Development & Spatial Manager, the impetus for a change is a Department of Commerce Grant to increase affordable housing. “The City is pursuing the adoption of a form-based code for the Downtown Commercial Zone to help redevelopment fit the character of the community and provide more housing options.” 
So, an online survey was created and published on the city’s website to gauge public sentiment regarding the status of downtown, what is valued aesthetically, public safety, and barriers to development. The survey window was August 12th to 24th, 2020 and 351 surveys were completed. Concerned parties were also notified through the SEPA process. A comment period for these proposed updates took place from January 22, 2021, through February 11, 2021.
Several differences in codes were discussed but of particular interest was a proposed change in the historic district; the [MG1] suggestion was to raise the allowable height from 35 to 45 feet. Currently, the code allows for a 45-foot height in the downtown core but only 35 feet in the historic district.
At the January 28th meeting, the height limits were discussed, and the commission asked city staff to create a maximum allowable height map and provide renderings to simulate the view corridors at different height buildings.
The city completed those renderings, and they were presented during the February 25th Planning Commission Public Hearing.
After a public comment period, the Commissioners present agreed the suggestion to raise allowable heights within the historic district from 35 feet to 45 feet should not occur. As a result, no height increases, or decreases will result from this code update.
The Planning Commission meets on the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at 7 pm. Meetings are currently online only. Direction to access the virtual meeting is included in each agenda packet. The agenda packets can be accessed on the city’s website here.
North Bend’s next Planning Commission meeting is next Thursday, March 11th, at 7:00 pm. There are many reasons to attend city meetings, wherever you happen to live. It’s good to be connected, informed and to share your opinion. You’ll be contributing to the betterment of your community and more completely understand local politics and issues.