Local business and government representatives heard updates on issues affecting their livelihoods at the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau fall membership meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 1 at Brickworks. This included affordable housing, which limits employees, and last summer’s disruptive ferry schedule, which hindered sales.
The majority of the county is comprised of single-family dwellings, but the Town of Friday Harbor is breaking the mold.
Erika Shook, the director of San Juan County Community Development Department, told attendees about 84 percent of the housing units in San Juan County are single-family, detached homes. That means more affordable multifamily housing, like apartments and duplexes, are rare.
However, Mike Bertrand, land use administrator with the Town of Friday Harbor, explained that’s not the case in the town. In the last two years, he said 67 units have been added on lots zoned for multifamily, including 54 which are currently being built or permitted. This includes attached units, like townhouses, as well as detached, smaller homes, which are more affordable than average-sized houses.
The new units, said Bertrand, added about 6 percent to the town’s current housing stock of a little over 1,000 homes.
While they are not all considered affordable housing, where units are priced based on income, they are long-term rentals and not for seasonal housing.
“Hopefully for your employees, this will help get you through the year,” said Bertrand to the 46 businesses and organizations represented at the meeting.
He said current town construction on multifamily lots includes five tiny homes on Guard Street; three of nine triplexes on Hillcrest Place; three duplexes on University Road; two homes on Finnegan Ridge; 15 townhouses on Grover Street and Hamilton Ranch Road; three apartments above commercial space on Web Street; and 20 Homes for Islanders houses on Gerard Lane.
Homes for Islanders and San Juan Community Home Trust are nonprofits that offer subsidized housing on the island. Bertrand noted that both organizations have built 118 homes in town, meaning a little more than 10 percent of the town’s housing stock is considered affordable housing.
When asked if last summer’s disrupted Washington State Ferries schedule affected business sales, most attendees raised their hands. San Juan County Council Chairman Rick Hughes explained that last summer’s broken ferries cost the county 14 days of direct sailings.
One reason for the broken ferries could be because four of the five ferries on the San Juans routes are at least 50 years old, said Hughes, and one is approaching 60.
“It’s time for our community to start to take action and it starts by talking to the governor,” he said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee needs to fund the $350 million in deferred maintenance for vessels on San Juans’ route, continued Hughes. He questioned whether San Juan County residents needed to fund their own passenger ferry, as opposed to one that includes vehicles.
He also explained that two ferries should be built per year to add new boats into the rotation, but construction has been stopped.
Hughes said he has plans to meet with the president of Clipper Navigation about possibly using the company’s vessels more often in the San Juans. Clipper Navigation operates a high-speed passenger ferry from Seattle to the islands, once a day, throughout the summer. The trip takes about three hours and costs from roughly $100 to $166 per adult, according to www.clippervacations.com.
A representative from the company, who attended the meeting said they have one vessel that is not in operation during the off-season months, like the fall, and will talk to the visitors’ bureau’s staff about more local options. She could not give quotes for prices at the meeting.
To become a visitors’ bureau member to attend upcoming meetings, visit www.visitsanjuans.com/membership.