Commission recommends stop to supportive housing sites in low-density neighborhoods
EVERETT — The Everett Planning Commission voted in favor of recommending that the City Council eliminate the permitting of supportive housing buildings, for homeless populations, in residential neighborhoods zoned R-1, thereby keeping them for single-family use only.
Members unanimously approved the suggestion for an amendment to the current code, 6-0, at a public hearing on Oct. 15.Their decision came after several months of proceedings to investigate the issue, which included multiple public hearings and a workshop.
Public speakers who expressed support for maintaining the city’s current code that allows supportive housing in single-family neighborhoods outnumbered those who were in favor of changing the code for the public comments portion of last week’s meeting.
Commission members expressed a desire to protect the designated intent of low-density neighborhoods.
Commissioner Michael Finch said, “I will say this is a land use matter, in my opinion and not an equity issue, not a humanitarian issue.”
He reasoned that while he was in favor of permanent supportive housing, “I’d like to see those types of developments being sited as efficiently and effectively as possible.”
Multiple commissioners stated that they felt the current code lacks adequate transparency and feedback measures throughout the application and development process.
“I understand the urgency of needing to deploy as much supportive housing as possible at this moment,” said Chair Kathryn Beck. “But I also think that it’s very, very important, if what you’re trying to build is community, that the public is engaged in that process of figuring out what that means.”
City Planning Director Allan Giffen said in an email that he will present the commission’s recommendation to the City Council before the current moratorium ends Dec. 12. The City Council authorized a six-month emergency moratorium on June 12. Their decision came after public comments and an emotionally charged neighborhood association meeting two nights earlier.
The moratorium delayed a proposed 34-unit multifamily development, that would have housed up to 100 of the Everett school district’s homeless students and their families on a surplus 3-acre site located at 36th Street and Norton Avenue in the Port Gardner Neighborhood.
The proposed housing complex would have been built by local nonprofit organization 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. The school district had said the plan for the property was chosen because it would be used for the benefit of its students; 1,266 of whom were counted as experiencing homelessness last year.
A few weeks ago, Housing Hope submitted an application to rezone the Norton Avenue property from R-1, for single-family residential, to R-3, which allows multifamily and medium-density developments. The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 19.
Fred Safstrom, CEO for Housing Hope, responded to the action: “Quite certainly, the Planning Commission’s recommendation was surprising and disappointing. They have recommended an action to not only effectively rescind an ordinance that defines a process whereby public agencies might be able to utilize surplus land in R-1 zones for supportive housing – but have gone a step further to recommend new restrictions for supportive housing on multifamily and commercially zoned land. We look forward to continuing this discussion with the City’s administration and City Council.”
The City Council had previously approved a revision to Everett’s zoning laws in 2016, which cleared the way specifically for developing supportive housing. Based upon the “Housing First” model to help address the issue of homelessness in the city, it allowed a separate category of land use for building the multifamily units in areas zoned for single-family use only, with the stipulation that they must be built on publicly owned lands. It also established a new lower off-street parking standard for supportive housing which previously had been regulated in the terms of required of multifamily housing.
In September, Giffen told the Planning Commission that the city only has four possible development sites on publicly owned land in single-family zones that would be viable for supportive housing under the current land use code. This is due to lot sizes and the code’s requirement that they be located within 500 feet of public transit service.
Giffen had previously informed the commissioners that since the code amendment in 2016, the city has seen three supportive housing applications approved for construction, with a fourth one undergoing the review process.
He said Clare’s Place, which opened this summer on Berkshire Road, had formerly been city owned and is the only property that is in an R-1 zone; however, all had benefited from the reduced parking standard.
If approved by the City Council, the commission’s recommendation would require that supportive housing units be regulated in the same manner as multifamily and commercial zoned housing, except for the off-street parking guidelines.Commissioner Alex Lark, who also serves as Philanthropy Manager for Housing Hope, recused himself from last week’s proceedings.
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