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January 2011 | Volume 10 Issue 1   


    Island Housing Program Combines Affordability and Sustainability
    The SmartCode and Affordable Housing
    The Transformation of a Suburb

Island Housing Program Combines Affordability and Sustainability

Residents of Bainbridge Island, Washington — a 27 square-mile island located 35 miles from the city of Seattle — value the island’s natural beauty and strive to preserve its green spaces and small-town charm. To balance these needs with ensuring diverse housing options for all residents, Bainbridge created a housing demonstration program that encourages the development of homes that are innovative, affordable, and sustainable.

An aerial view of Bainbridge Island, Washington.Housing Design Demonstration Project

The Housing Design Demonstration Project (HDDP) is a three-year pilot program intended to evaluate the compatibility of newer, innovative housing styles with existing land use regulations. The HDDP’s primary focus is the Island’s downtown area, known as Winslow. Developers interested in participating in the program, which applies to new single-family, multifamily, and mixed-use developments, can submit project proposals to the city for consideration of HDDP status. The applications are evaluated based on proposed housing diversity (including a variety of unit types and sizes), affordability, innovative site and building designs, and green features. Preference is also given to developments that are designed to reduce auto reliance by promoting public transit or alternative transportation methods.

Projects that qualify as HDDPs are eligible for incentives such as reduced setbacks, smaller lot sizes, and increased lot coverage and building heights. Density bonuses, based on the levels of green standards and affordable housing provided, are also part of the program. The highest density bonus — 2.5 times the base density — is allowed for projects that achieve specific green building certifications. In addition, the housing units must be no larger than 1,600 square feet in size and at least half of the units must be affordable to low-income families. A 50-year affordability period applies to all affordable housing units developed under the HDDP ordinance.

The city is close to approving its first formal HDDP application. The Housing Resources Board (HRB), a local nonprofit, is proposing to develop 48 sustainable, affordable housing units on a 6-acre parcel of land along Ferncliff Avenue within the Winslow area. The project, which will feature small housing footprints, cottage style homes, open space preservation, and low-impact site development strategies, is designed to meet the state’s Evergreen Sustainable Development Criteria. According to Ken Balizer, HRB’s executive director, the project will be structured as a community land trust. The nonprofit will sell or rent the units but hold the underlying land in trust for the community. Deed restrictions and long-term ground leases will ensure that the homes remain permanently affordable. Households earning no more than 120 percent of the area median income are eligible to purchase these limited equity homes. The first phase of construction is expected to begin early this year, following final approval of HDDP status. Mr. Balizer intends the project to showcase HDDP’s usefulness and underscore the importance of its continuance.

In addition to the Ferncliff project, there are about six proposals currently undergoing preliminary review. City staff expects to approve more HDDP projects in 2011.


Bainbridge Island’s housing demonstration program aims to identify changes in zoning and land use regulations that may be required to promote development of affordable and sustainable housing on the Island. In less than two years, when the HDDP ordinance expires in August 2012, the city council will evaluate its success and consider making the program permanent.


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