LEAVENWORTH — With many workers in Leavenworth opting to commute to work due to lack of housing or rising costs, city officials are looking to increase available housing.

Proposed changes to Leavenworth’s 2021 Comprehensive Plan include denser housing development and more options for developers to build affordable housing.

Updates to this plan are just the first step in a series of changes to increase the types and amount of housing, said Lilith Vespier, city of Leavenworth development services manager.

The aim is also to provide spaces for those who want to live and work in Leavenworth without contributing to highway traffic, she said.

Workers in restaurant kitchens or hotels generally make less money than others in Chelan County, she said. That group of people is “critical to the service industry here in Leavenworth.”

Low-income is defined as people making 80% or less of the county median income. The U.S. Census reported Chelan County’s household median income to be $58,795 in 2019.

Vespier said she does not anticipate residential lots being converted to low-income affordable housing, but that it is a possibility.

2020 leavenworth land use designation map.jpg

Leavenworth city officials say future affordable housing developments are expected to be placed in multi-family or commercial areas, as seen in orange and red in this land use map.

What will most likely happen is affordable housing units coming to the city’s multi-family or commercial zoning districts, she said.

The city is also lifting regulations on duplexes, allowing them to be developed on any legal lot instead of just lots that at least 12,000 square feet, she said.

Vespier is hoping changes to the city’s comprehensive plan help make more housing options available to those in need of affordable places to live.

With a growing community in mind, Leavenworth Mayor Carl Florea said the town cannot go back to “what was.”

Florea agreed with Vespier that Leavenworth does not have enough low-income housing units for people working in jobs such as retail or hospitality. The focus should be on creating more housing for those workers, he said.

Leavenworth businesses right now need to hire people from out of town due to the city’s lack of housing options, he said.

“If we’re going to house the next generation ... things are going to have to change from what they were,” he said.

Land is limited and everything costs more than it used to, he said. Housing that next generation means figuring out how to make more efficient use of space in Leavenworth.

“We’re not going to suddenly be able to house everybody … but it behooves us to be able to house more,” he said.

Availability of both first-time home buyer homes and low-income units are two pieces the city is missing, he said. Filling those gaps is “what my administration is about.”

Florea said he pushes back against the idea that more density translates to less of a “neighborhood feel.” Solving potential issues in regards to density is about one’s approach.

Making better use of Leavenworth’s land is just one of many steps that needs to happen in order to create more affordable housing, he said.

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