Photo by Shane Harms
Homeless and religious advocates argued for human decency at the public meeting June 4, while others said stick to the code.

Where will the LIHI Urban Rest Stop reside?

Community members discuss code violations and human rights at public meeting

June 4 – Over 50 concerned citizens attended the public meeting at the Ballard Community Center to make their opinions heard on whether a Low Income Housing Institute's (LIHI) Urban Rest Stop should be established at the currently being constructed Cheryl Chow Court (2014 N.W. 57th St.).

LIHI’s application (#3016841) asks for the 1,952 square feet ground level area of the Cheryl Chow Court to be used for a hygiene center. The facility does not provide parking for the senior residents or for the URS visitors, which does not meet code requirements to have at least six parking spots.

In addition, the facility does not follow zoning code because as a “community center” it is an institutional use facility and the code says institutions need to be at least 600 feet apart. The new facility falls within 600 of two other institutions: the Ballard Public Library and St. Luke’s Church.

Because of this, the LIHI application requires approval of Administrative Conditional Use (ACU) – which is when the Department of Planning and Development bends the code to allow projects that do not fit current code criteria – for two issues: to allow a community center (URS) in a midrise zone within 600 feet of an existing institution and to allow an institution in a midrise zone that does not meet the parking requirements.

The Cheryl Chow Court is a 51 unit low-income elderly apartment building and has already been approved by the DPD. However, contention has arisen over the URS because the initial application had errors and data used to justify the lack of parking has since changed.

Bruce Rips, Senior Land Use Planner with the DPD, proctored the meeting. He said that at this point in the project, the DPD has addressed land use and zoning corrections in the application, sent them to LIHI and are awaiting a response from them.

Part of the ongoing process for the Master Use Permit, which is aggregated review and decision of the project, is for the DPD to review the application in light of the issues the community addresses at the public meeting. They consider the issues and decide if the project is a “good fit” by determining and mitigating any detrimental plans the project would have to the community and whether the project warrants ACU. After the MUP is published the Hearing Examiner can appeal the decision after hearing arguments from the appellant and the applicant. If the decision stands, the MUP can be appealed in superior court.

Almost 30 individuals signed up to speak at the meeting. Veining issues speakers addressed focused on ACU parking and dispersion issues, along with the location’s ability to best serve low-income and homeless populations, public health, transportation, safety, and nuisance issues. Moreover, an overarching argument from homeless and religious advocates was that the community has a moral obligation to provide the population without means a place to bath, wash their clothes, and use the restroom, despite what the zoning code says. Both proponents and opponents brought well-thought, thorough arguments to the table for discussion.

Concerning the parking issue, opponents stated that the LIHI application used out of date in information that has allowed them to not provide the mandatory six parking spots required for a community center facility, and therefore falls short of following the code. The application used a study that surveyed low-income senior facilities and how many used vehicles they used. The study reported a dramatic reduction in vehicle use. However, that part of the application was only for the senior living facility and could not be used for the URS. Opponents called for a new study.

In addition the application stated that parking would be available at the Wiggins Funeral Home lot, which is now planned for residential development, and an old parking lot where the Green Fire Campus now resides, which does not provide public parking. Many opponents said that Ballard is already a hub for “campers” living in their vehicles and that the URS stop would draw more campers to the area, crowding the streets with campers.

In addition, John Davis, said that mobility by car is one of the last remaining elements of autonomy low income seniors have and by not providing adequate parking the seniors living above the URS would have less quality of life.

However, proponents of the URS said that it would be unlikely homeless “campers” would forfeit their “treasured” parking spot just to go wash up, and would rather walk to the site, and therefore not congest Northwest 57th Street. Christina Rockwell, commented that Ballard does face parking issues, but it has become a highly walkable village with an over 90 percent walkability rating; and therefore, homeless people who most likely do not have cars would walk to the facility rather than drive.

The zoning dispersion issues were also a main thread of the meeting. Ethan Von Eck read for a neighbor and argued that the need for dispersion should be honored based on the recorded number of 911 calls in the institutional use area (Library and St. Luke’s) and potential for increase of incidences based on the number of 911 calls from other Seattle URS’s.

“ Within 600 feet of the LIHI’s building are no bodies of water, large open spaces, topographical breaks, or non-residential uses that provide substantial separation from other institutions, as required. … And in fact the situation seems clear to demonstrate why the code includes such a standard.”

Von Eck cited Seattle Police Department reports from January 2010 to September of 2013 where there were over 700 police reports to the Ballard Commons Park alone. Moreover, counting the number of incidences including the library and the St. Luke’s there are over 1000 incidences within a one-block radius.

Rips made note of the comments and will considering them with further review of the Master Use Permit.

Look for the Ballard News-Tribune for further coverage of the issue.

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