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Views split on homeless housing in Everett's residential neighborhoods

EVERETT — Residents voiced support and opposition to the city council’s emergency moratorium to readdress building housing developments for homeless people in residential neighborhoods.
The council voted 6-0 to continue the moratorium and identified issues of concern for the city’s planning commission to evaluate.
Twenty-six people provided comments at a public hearing. Their opinions covered the general impacts of supportive housing as well as the recently proposed Housing Hope project in the Port Gardner neighborhood. The crowd at the June 10 council meeting was larger than the room’s capacity and overflowed into the lobby. 
The comments council heard were mainly split between support or opposition with some people feeling torn on the issue. Half the speakers wanting to see the moratorium lifted also appeared to be unaffiliated with any social agencies.
However, viewpoints in favor of revising the framework ordinance created in 2016 drew the loudest cheers and applause from the crowd.
Several of the people who spoke to the need for affordable supportive housing work at city and county agencies or nonprofit organizations that are set up to study and address the problem. Some neighborhood association leaders and residents from many different areas
voiced concerns about the integration of such projects and maintaining the atmosphere or “character” of their neighborhoods.
Elizabeth Koenig of the Port Gardner Neighborhood supports the moratorium, and said the city should honor the work put into developing its Metro Everett plan for high density growth in the city’s downtown area by sticking with it. “There are so many more appropriate places to build housing complexes then in residential areas with narrow streets poor sight lines and no public transportation, shopping or services,” she said.
Koenig agreed there’s a need to build more supportive housing, but said considerations need to include how many of those units may already exist in the area and also the need to preserve open spaces. “It’s important to have balance in neighborhoods ... And just because a nonprofit developer is basically given the land does not make it the right place for the development,” she said.
Raven Campbell of the Evergreen Neighborhood spoke in opposition to the moratorium. Campbell said that since the region is in a housing crisis, action is needed to help lessen its effects. She felt the original ordinance allowing supportive housing across zones was more prescient.
“There are almost 1,300 homeless children in this school district,” she said. “The need is urgent, here and now. Given the scale of this emergency, this is not the time to be throwing tacks on the racetrack, supportive housing needs to be an option everywhere.”
The regulations will now go before the city’s all-volunteer planning commission for potential tinkering.
The council’s worklist for planning commissioners to evaluate includes: the public notice process required for a project, developers’ responsibilities to address the neighborhood impacts of developments, the public’s ability to challenge project proposals, parking standards, local infrastructure, and a project’s proximity to both transit and health and human services providers.
“It was interesting to see the fairly even split in the comments from the public,” Everett Planning Director Allan Giffen said in an interview. “I did not expect to see quite the strong showing of support for the people who were supportive of either repealing the moratorium and for the specific project that Housing Hope would like to do.”
City planners will present the points specified by the council to the planning commission for consideration. He said that, in the meantime, his department will do additional research and perhaps identify some alternatives for the planning commission to talk about. The commission’s findings would then be presented to the City Council as a public forum.
In 2016, the council approved a revision to city zoning laws meant to clear the way for the development of supportive housing. It allowed a separate category of land use for building the multi-family units in areas zoned R-1, designated for single family use only, with the stipulation that they must be built on publicly owned lands. 
Since then, three properties have met the criteria and been approved: The 65-unit Clare’s Place on Berkshire Drive near Evergreen Way; a center for Cocoon House at 3530 Colby Ave.; and Housing Hope’s upcoming HopeWorks Station II on 34th Street and Broadway. 
Council members Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy brought forth the moratorium ordinance and the measure passed 6-0 on June 12. The sudden vote came after outcry in the Port Gardner Neighborhood over a proposed 34-unit multi-family development that would have housed up to 100 of the Everett school district’s homeless students and their families on a 3-acre site located at 36th Street and Norton Avenue called the Norton Ballfields. 
Project construction wasn’t expected to be immediate, but city paperwork cannot proceed with the moratorium in place.
The school district chose this property as surplus property for the benefit of its students. Last year the Everett School District counted 1,266 homeless students.
The proposed housing complex would be built by nonprofit Housing Hope after the Everett school board voted in May to approve a 75-year lease of the surplus land to the organization for $1 a year.
City Council members have expressed both support for more affordable housing and also a desire to reexamine how the city defines supportive housing and its surrounding requirements under the changes made in 2016. 
The six-month moratorium can be renewed or extended under state law. 
Councilman Jeff Moore recused himself from the moratorium proceedings because he works for the Everett School District as its director of finance.

 

  

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