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Discussion on supportive housing in Everett,
which is under temporary halt, continues Sept. 17

EVERETT — The city’s Planning Commission last month analyzed the City Council’s moratorium that halts new supportive housing projects in single-family zoned neighborhoods, and may be providing some recommendations back to council later this fall.
After a slew of public comments at a June City Council meeting that happened two nights after an emotionally charged neighborhood association meeting, council members Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy brought forth the emergency moratorium ordinance, which passed 6-0 at council that night. It delayed a proposed 34-unit multi-family development by Housing Hope that could have housed up to 100 of the Everett school district’s homeless students and their families on a 3-acre site being surplussed by the school district that is located at 36th Street and Norton Avenue in the Port Gardner neighborhood.
A change to city zoning laws was approved in 2016, meant to clear the way specifically for developing supportive housing. Based on the “Housing First” model to help address homelessness in the city, it allowed a separate category of land use for multi-family housing for people who are homeless, or at risk of it, in areas zoned R-1, which are traditionally for single family use only. The stipulation is that the projects must be built on publicly owned lands.
At its July 10 council meeting, the council formalized a list of items for the planning commission to research and follow-up on. These included: The public notice process required, developers’ responsibilities to address the neighborhood impacts of developments, the public’s ability to challenge project proposals, parking standards, local infrastructure, and the proximity to both transit and health and human services providers.
Since the code amendment in 2016, the city has had three applications approved for construction and a fourth one that is currently undergoing the review process, city planning director Allan Giffen said. He said Clare’s Place, which just opened on Berkshire Road, is the only property in an R1 zone.
The council had inquired about the possibility of requiring public notice earlier in the process.
“It’s interesting that they asked for that because (the project) that brought it to the City Council’s attention” had not made an application yet, Giffen said in the meeting, referring to the Norton Avenue project.
He said current codes have no requirement that a supportive housing project provide for pubic notice after an application is filed, but noted that typically planners encourage an applicant to meet with neighbors beforehand to discuss the project and identify any issues or concerns that the neighborhood may have.
The city can require design changes to a proposal to help make it more compatible with the surrounding area.
The planning commission heard from 15 residents at the meeting. Opinions were split between those who wanted to end the moratorium and people who supported it.
Commission Chair Kathryn Beck had to remind speakers multiple times that comments for consideration were to only address the moratorium itself and not any specific development proposal. Some people expressed frustration because they felt the Norton Avenue project was why the City Council set the moratorium.
Several commissioners said that it would be helpful to have a map identifying the location and number of publicly owned properties that are in single family residential neighborhoods. They said this could also potentially help balance the need for housing, where the sites are located and whether there is capacity elsewhere.
Commissioner Adam Yanasak said knowing how many properties are eligible “would help to frame the conversation at least moving forward.”
Beck said she also would like to find out how many single-family residential properties are in proximity to the sites eligible for supportive housing developments.
In addition to a map of eligible properties, Commissioner Greg Tisdel said he would like to see an overlay of existing transit zones in order to determine which of those have routes close by.
Everett’s code requires a supportive housing site to be within 500 feet of public transit, which is shorter than the typical quarter mile measured for some cities as a reasonable walking distance.
The transit stop requirement was written to benefit residents who may not drive or own cars so they can easily travel to needed services and grocery stores.
Commission Vice Chair Christine Lavra said she would like the city to consider extending the current 500 feet of proximity to transit requirement out to within one quarter mile because she thinks that’s more reasonable.
Commissioners also asked for additional research on neighborhood outreach methods and also discussed possible tweaks for an appeals process that would allow the involvement of the City Council with the hearing examiner.
Giffen told the commission that the city’s current code addresses surrounding infrastructure through the evaluation criteria during the public review process. These criteria include adequacy of streets, utilities, public services, traffic impact, pedestrian circulation and public safety.
The hearing examiner then has the authority to mitigate any impacts identified, and can even deny a project if it is found to have an inadequate management plan.
Giffen cited as an example that if pedestrian facilities are not adequate, then the applicant would either have to build additional sidewalks and connections to the existing network, or if it was too far removed, then the application would likely be denied.
Giffen informed the commission that establishing a criteria that required a proximity to social services within the community would likely result in supportive housing being encouraged in the north end of the city and near downtown where more social services exist. Consequently, south Everett would probably not qualify for these developments.
By definition supportive housing already has on-site social services, he said. It’s perhaps not every service each individual resident may need, but the ones that are considered most critical for them to have a functional living arrangement.
The commission will discuss the topic again at its Sept. 17 public workshop, and at its Oct. 15 meeting, that will include a public hearing where the commission could possibly set a recommendation to the City Council, Giffen said.
The six-month moratorium enacted by the council can be renewed or extended under state law.



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