Neighborhood association says LIHI Urban Rest Center a “bad fit”

As the Low Income Housing Institute's (LIHI) Cheryl Chow Court (2014 N.W. 57th St.) is being constructed, some neighborhood residents are trying to stave off establishing an Urban Rest Stop (HRS) planned to occupy the lower level.

The Ballard location would be the third URS managed by LIHI in Seattle. The other two are Downtown and in the University District.

The building will provide 52 units for low income seniors. Eligible seniors need to be age 62 plus, with annual earnings 50 percent or below the area’s median income ($78,500). 10 percent of the housing will be reserved for homeless seniors. The 1,948 square foot URS is planned to serve as a hygiene center for homeless and
low income individuals. The plans show four private hygiene stations, public restrooms and a laundry facility.

The Seattle municipal code stipulates institutional use facilities need to be at least 600 feet apart. The proposed URS is less than that to the Ballard Public Library and St. Luke’s Church. Moreover, the LIHI received U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 202 funding to build the site. HUD requires a minimum number of parking spaces be provided for tenants unless it can be proven the parking is not needed.

Because of these reasons Administrative Conditional Use (ACU) approval is needed. An ACU waives developmental standards for developers. LIHI has applied for the approval. The last day for public comment on the application was April 10.

While the application process is underway, members of the community have commented on the Seattle Department of Development and Planning site. Many of them feel the URS location is not going to be a good fit. In addition the Northwest 57th Street Neighborhood Association submitted a request for a public meeting with 102 signatures. The group would like to discuss the URS be moved to a different location.

“There are homeless people in Ballard and no one denies that we need a hygiene center, but it’s the location -- it does more harm than good to the community,” said Ethan Van Eck with the Northwest 57th Street Neighbors Group.

“We think there’s a pretty good chance there will be a public meeting because we did a good job understanding the code and bringing effective arguments to the DPD staff to inform their analysis for the report and to the Director of the DPD. Hopefully the DPD listens to the community not just developers,” said Van Eck.

Key issues commenters made on why the URS would be bad fit were related to general location, parking, congestion, and loitering.

The parking issue was emphasized since the since the Cheryl Chow Court does not provide parking for its tenants or for URS visitors. Moreover, the parking report used in the application is not up to date and calculates parking availability using the Wiggins Funeral Home lot, which has been sold, and the lot where the Green Fire Campus now resides.

The 2014 One Night Count of homeless people in King County reported Seattle had 2,303 individuals, and 730 (32 percent) were found sheltered in their vehicles.

Van Eck stated that the demand for parking by the homeless in Ballard will be much greater than at the Downtown URS because the downtown area has less vehicle use, more shelters, better public transportations and less “camper” parking. In addition, commenters stated that the homeless population would be better
served where they most frequently reside, claiming the light industrial zones along Leary.

However, there are some Ballard residents that do not share the views of the commenters.

Steve Grumm is a Ballard resident and member of the Ballard Community Taskforce on Hunger and Homelessness. Grumm was Pastor at Our Redeemers Church but has retired and now volunteers with the One Night Count.

“I live in the neighborhood and walk through the area regularly. I agree there is parking there that is prime and heavy at night, but along 20th there is a lot of available parking as long as it’s during the day because the people that park there are at work,” said Grumm.

Sharon Lee, Executive Director of LIHI, said that a lot of thought went into choosing the location of the site.

“We think that the site is a good one because it’s good for pedestrians and we are not in a industrial zone. You’re not going to go across town to use the bathroom. We wanted it to be close to public amenities and transportation,” said Lee.

“The Downtown URS is open many more hours and open on weekends. We are proposing shorter hours and different staffing levels in Ballard. We have an advisory committee and spent most of the time on the design, operations, and management and expectations of people using the rest stop, as far as cleanliness issues and security issues. If you look at our history we have had over 13 years of operational experience serving this population.”

Furthermore, Lee said that there are already homeless people using the library and St. Luke’s Church so the site location makes sense.

“Anytime you have a new project like this it raises some anxiety among some residents. There is a lot of anxiety in Ballard with all the changes going on, and it’s important to ask what the changes are going to be. But the URS have responded to the needs and habits of all their locations and the same thing will happen in Ballard,” said Grumm

To the question of homeless individuals loitering in the area, Grumm said, “I think your dealing with a different clientele at the URS. The people that are hanging at the park and the library or at St. Luke’s are not the people going to be using this resource – some of them may. But I know if you're going to a URS to get cleaned up and wash your clothes you’re not going to be causing problems. There’s a broad demographic of homelessness and it’s not fair to put them all into one category.”

We encourage our readers to comment. No registration is required. We ask that you keep your comments free of profanity and keep them civil. They are moderated and objectionable comments will be removed.