Changes to Kalama’s city code would allow up to eight-story apartment buildings to be built downtown.

The City Council Thursday approved zoning changes to allow multi-family housing and “maker” (light manufacturing) spaces downtown and increase building height limits. The changes were identified by the city’s 2017 Downtown Revitalization Study as ways to spur development.

“It sets the stage to implement the development plan, in a way that’s not in a hurry and will be thoughtful,” Councilwoman Rosemary Siipola said of the change.

Previously, apartments or condominiums downtown were only allowed as part of a mixed-use building. The change allows multi-family housing without a commercial portion but limits such developments to the area north of Geranium Street.

The report from City Planner John Floyd said the boundary was added in to preserve the core area’s historic feel and because the north end of town has larger lots.

The additional housing development opportunities will help address Kalama’s rental market shortage, the report said. According to the downtown study, there is an under-supply of about 100 to 120 rental units in Kalama and a significantly lower vacancy rate than surrounding towns.

A new section will be added to the code to allow maker spaces or storefront production in downtown buildings. Floyd said the benefits of these spaces include business incubation, increased activity downtown and branding Kalama as a place for entrepreneurs.

Examples of maker firms include craft breweries, bakeries, jewelry makers, custom sports equipment or art and furniture assembly. Some of these, such as bakeries and custom art studios, already were permitted, but light industrial production was not.

The businesses will be required to sell some of their products on site, Floyd said. Existing retail businesses will also be allowed to open up small-level manufacturing.

The change also includes revising the building height limits to improve visibility from Interstate 5 and encourage development without impeding homeowners’ views from the residential hill above downtown.

The Planning Commission suggested setting the height limits in relation to the elevation of the hill behind North First Street. The maximum height of buildings allowed along North First Street increase from south to north.

The height limit was 45 feet, or three stories. The changes allow buildings to range from 50 feet to 95 feet, depending on their location on North First Street. Floyd said the tallest building would likely be six to eight stories and limited to the blocks north of Ivy Street.

The council members said the height limit rules take advantage of Kalama’s unique topography and fits the character of the downtown.

Mayor Mike Reuter voiced concern about having enough parking for a larger apartment building. Parking standards would limit the number of units a building could have, Floyd said.

“There’s a lot of work to do but I think we have to start somewhere,” Siipola said.

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