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City slaps year-long moratorium on applications for communal housing

The Auburn City Council on Monday resolved that for a year the City won't accept applications for business licenses and other licenses, permits and approvals for communal rental housing.

The idea is to give the City and residents time to craft better rules than those that the City has had in place since January.

"We haven't quite got the rules for it down yet," said Councilman John Holman, chairman of the Planning and Community Development Committee.

The moratorium includes a work plan that accommodates an initial one-year moratorium.

The city must hold a public hearing on the moratorium within 60 days.

Shao Xia Zhu and her husband, Gary Kiefer, who already rent space to students in two homes they own within the Rainier Ridge subdivision north of Green River Community College, were the first to apply under the new communal housing rules.

Their hope is to be allowed to rent to seven unrelated students in the homes they own, which is possible only under the conditional use permit process. The City's Hearing Examiner is considering their application.

Neighbors say they put up with four students per residence without a landlord present, which City regulations permit outright without a hearing.

But allowing any more than that, they say, falls far short of what they and other proponents of new rules had expected from the ordinance they pushed for and the Auburn City Council adopted last September.

Such packed housing in what the subdivision's builders intended to be a single-family residential neighborhood, resident Russ Campbell told members of the PCD Committee last week, is wrong and would be detrimental to surrounding property values.

Campbell, who on that occasion suggested a moratorium, also took aim at a standard under the International Building Code, which the City has adopted by reference, that allows the minimum size of a room to be 50 square feet per person.

Instead, Campbell suggested, the question the City should ask is, what should the minimum acceptable be for decent human habitation.

Zhu and Kiefer say their business has gotten a bad rap. Zhu said they run well maintained, well kept houses for foreign students. Houses where young adults are "encouraged to interact with their neighbors and to follow the rules," she added.

The City must have a public hearing on the moratorium within 60 days.

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