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City developing rules for ‘rooming houses’
Property owner wants to build one at 402 Ave. E
SNOHOMISH - The planning commission is preparing two ordinances for the City Council that address zoning rules for a new type of residential development it is calling “rooming houses.”
Rooming houses are being defined as very small single occupancy apartment units with each unit containing a bathroom and kitchenette. The apartment building’s residents would share a common full kitchen and dining area.
A Seattle developer is interested in converting a dilapidated former senior assisted living facility at 402 Ave. E into a rooming house. The facility is located in a single family residential neighborhood a block south of Snohomish High School.
Residents near 402 Ave. E say this issue hasn’t been discussed much in public and believe these rules are being written for the Avenue E property.
The developer has been talking with the city about the Avenue E property for a year. The City Council in December directed the planning commission to work on an ordinance to address this type of living arrangement, which currently isn’t allowed in the city code.
Neighbors also are concerned about traffic and whether this type of development is compatible in a single family neighborhood. One neighbor wanted to know if this type of development would attract frequent resident turnover and more crime.   
Known as “apodments” in Seattle, these tiny living spaces offer cheaper rent (around $400 to $550 a month including utilities, cable, high-speed Internet in Seattle). One apodment in Seattle offers units ranging from 110 to 160 square feet in a converted townhouse.  
Snohomish’s draft ordinances require units to be at least 200 square feet. The building size must be at least 5,000 square feet — the size of a very large house — to qualify as a rooming house. There would have to be at least one parking space per unit on site.
The facility at 402 Ave. E is 9,000 square feet and was most recently used as a day care center but is now vacant. Chris Koh of Coho Real Estate Group in Seattle wants to offer an affordable housing option to people who work in Snohomish or artists looking for live-work space, Koh said last week. His firm owns apodments in Seattle.
Koh would like to build at least 25 units at 402 Ave. E. The units would be 250 square feet or larger, he said. Rent would start around $400 a month including some utilities. Tenants would be screened and asked to sign leases ranging from nine to 12 months. A building manager would live in one of the units. There would be no smoking in the units.
Koh said he has reached out to Snohomish employers such as Fred Meyer and Home Depot and they say affordable housing is needed in town.
The parking requirement is an issue, Koh said.
The one parking spot on site per unit would limit Koh to 15 units unless additional off-street parking space is acquired. Koh would like to see the requirement eased. He said not all likely tenants may have cars and would bike or walk to work. He said the site would have space for bicycles.
“The key is to make it affordable,” Koh said.
The planning commission is preparing two ordinances for the City Council’s approval.
One is a demonstration ordinance that would allow rooming houses in single family residential neighborhoods only upon council approval. The council would have say over which project(s) can be permitted in single family residential zones. The demonstration ordinance allows the city to evaluate whether or not rooming houses are appropriate in single family neighborhoods. The site at 402 Ave. E could be selected as a pilot project.
The second ordinance allows for this type of development citywide and recommends allowing them where multifamily residential development is allowed.
The planning commission has scheduled a public hearing on both ordinances for its Wednesday, April 3 meeting. The planning commission will meet at 1601 Ave. D in the Snohomish School District administration building. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
Once the planning commission makes a recommendation, the City Council will then discuss the issue at a future meeting.


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