Lea Hill residents at hearing say they appreciate communal housing moratorium

Julia Short discusses her concerns about communal housing with the City Council.  - Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter
Julia Short discusses her concerns about communal housing with the City Council.
— image credit: Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter

Julia Short supports Green River Community College and education.

As it turns out, the retired GRCC teacher of nursing also backs the City Council's recent decision to impose a one-year moratorium on acceptance of applications and other licenses, permits and approvals for communal rental housing throughout the city.

"Some stuff has been getting out of hand," Short told the Auburn City Council on Monday evening during the hearing on the moratorium. "You've gone to a great deal of effort to bring this to the table so some of these kinks can be ironed out. But I will be keeping an eye on you."

"Stuff" is shorthand for negative activities neighbors link to overcrowded student housing in residential homes north of GRCC. Fed up by those problems, residents last year pushed for and got the City to adopt new rules that allow a maximum of four unrelated persons in a home.

But when it later turned out that the ordinance, which went into effect in January, allows more than four persons via a conditional use permit process, neighbors suggested a moratorium to give the officials and residents time to craft better rules.

A recent decision of the City Hearing Examiner allows a Rainier Ridge couple, Shao Xia Zhu and her husband, Gary Kiefer, to operate a home for up to seven people via the conditional use permit process and under very strict conditions.

Neighbors say that, in general, they could 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 all the new rules had expected from the ordinance.

Rainier Ridge resident Russ Campbell asked for the moratorium in June.

Such packed housing in what the subdivision's builders intended to be a single-family residential neighborhood, Campbell insists, is wrong and would be detrimental to surrounding property values.

"I wanted to say that I appreciate how much work council members and the committee put into [Ordinance} 6477 last year," Campbell said. "But we discovered that there were some flaws and the need for some fine-tuning of that. The moratorium helps that process along and allows that to be examined and for us to come back with a clearer idea about how to control rental housing in our neighborhood."

Councilman John Holman, chair of the Planning and Community Development Committee, explained after Monday's hearing where this particular issue appears to be headed.

"I think it's going to be a four-person maximum, but that probably will not pencil for someone to do," said Holman, whose committee over the past year has done most of the work on the ordinance. "If someone wants to buy his house and let his son or daughter use it with a couple roommates while they're in college, fine and dandy ... The slippery slope we want to avoid is to start defining what a family is — you know, these families can live here, and these can't," Holman said.

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

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