A brief public discussion on the sale of four undeveloped town lots took place at the Oct. 3 San Juan County Council meeting, but the majority of the discussion was extended to Tuesday, Oct. 17.
Councilmen didn’t speak on the subject at the meeting because staff needed time to prepare documents for their review. Two members of the public commented.
The lots for sale, at the corner of Argyle and Malcolm Streets, are currently owned by the San Juan County Land Bank, which is an agency of the county. The county government, as a whole, is considering buying them to lease the land to a developer to build affordable rentals.
The plan is to address a lack of affordable, long-term rentals in the county. A March county study showed that 43 percent of local homes are vacant, meaning second homes or vacation rentals — which people do not live in fulltime — could be depleting the island’s stock of long-term dwellings.
Two locals have also placed bids on the land.
One potential buyer, Lynn Danaher, also wants to build affordable rentals, as well as commercial spaces. She said, during the meeting, that the property is being appraised again because the appraiser was unaware of the land’s historical easement. Including this, said Danaher, would likely decrease the land’s value.
The historic easement would require developers to review designs with town staff to ensure they match Friday Harbor’s historic preservation guidelines. These include structures in the style of farmhouses and craftsman homes.
At the meeting, an owner of a Malcolm Street business said the county’s plan to change the property’s zoning from residential to commercial, would isolate businesses on Malcolm Street from the downtown core. Adding apartments to the area would also create too much density, she added.
Council will discuss whether to sell the property in a direct sale or an auction on Oct. 17. A different public hearing, which has yet to be set, will discuss to whom the property will be sold.