Town should pay for Holli Place upgrade

By Nancy DeVaux, who retired as Executive Director of the San Juan Community Home Trust in 2017, and is currently a member of the County Affordable Housing Committee.

Members of the Friday Harbor Town Council emphatically disagreed with public comments they received stating they don’t care about affordable housing. They do care, they say, and understand that affordable housing is a big priority.

Yet their comments expressed regarding an administrative appeal and variance request over additional requirements for the San Juan Community Home Trust to complete the Holliwalk neighborhood do not align with this stated support.

At the Feb. 15 town council meeting, the ball was kicked back to the Home Trust, voting on a variance that will require a bond and give the Trust four more years to fundraise another $200,000 for curbs, gutters and sidewalks along the former alley, Holli Place. This is in addition to the already completed upgrades along Price Street.

Permanently affordable housing should be recognized as an asset for the entire community. Holliwalk has restrictions that will keep these homes affordable for 99+ years. Shouldn’t the town be asking how it can contribute to the success of creating this high-priority community asset? Why not help seek solutions?

The biggest challenge in creating affordable housing is the herculean task of raising all the funds to pay for it. To build Holliwalk, (or any affordable housing project), major grants for that specific project must be applied for and local fundraising from individual donors is also needed to make it happen.

If the Home Trust had known that these street improvements were to be additional requirements, they could have included them in the budgets and grants they successfully raised to build this project. Now there will be significant fundraising required after the project was believed to be completed.

Unfortunately, the meeting grew heated when the Home Trust brought up the fact that their plans had been stamped multiple times for approval by the town, and the land use administrator blamed the Trust for accepting this decision “from somebody who didn’t have the authority to make it.” (One wonders why someone without the proper authority would be stamping permits?)

The Town Council should take accountability for their part in this error and compromise with the Home Trust by working with the existing permits/plans they’ve stamped.

Furthermore, looking past this administrative confusion, I question who should pay for new sidewalks in town? Who paid for the expansion and paving of Nash Street? Who paid for the new sidewalks along Tucker Ave? The Town obviously has access to funds for developing streets and sidewalks that do not rely on the fundraising efforts of nonprofit affordable housing organizations.

If the Town insists on developing this little dead-end street, that is often considered an alley, to the same standards as Spring Street, they really should pay for it. This would definitely be something concrete they could do to show their support for affordable housing.