Pastors who run sex offender housing sue Marysville

MARYSVILLE — A pair of pastors who operate a series of halfway houses for sex offenders and other released inmates have sued the city of Marysville over its attempts to enforce land use codes against them.

John and Jane Mack of Arlington run Holy Ghost Revival Ministries, which provides ministry and 12-step residential programs for sex offenders and other men with criminal backgrounds in several “Mack Houses” in Snohomish County.

The Macks and Greg Stewart, the landlord for one of the properties, are taking the city to court over code enforcement actions related to two of the properties: one located east of downtown in a suburban residential neighborhood and one up north in a mixed commercial and light industrial neighborhood.

Marysville has ordered the Macks to cease using the 61st Street property for storage and that residents not be housed at the Smokey Point Boulevard location.

The Macks have nine properties, four of them in Marysville. Another Mack house on State Avenue was the subject of a contentious City Council meeting in 2012 when neighbors found out that three sex offenders had moved in.

The suit, filed July 2 in Snohomish County Superior Court, is an appeal of two June 11 rulings by the city’s hearing examiner under the state Land Use Petition Act, in which the superior court acts as an appellate court for those land use decisions.

A judge could either uphold one or both of the rulings, or find that the hearing examiner committed an error in the original ruling and send one or both the rulings for reconsideration. Typically no new evidence is allowed in this type of hearing.

At the Smokey Point Boulevard property, the city cited the Macks for housing nine people in a building zoned for commercial use.

The Macks’ defense is that the residency is allowed under the “caretaker’s quarters” provisions of city code and that the terms of their lease with Stewart specifically allow that use. The hearing examiner had rejected that notion, saying that the building’s primary purpose was not commercial, but residential.

At the 61st Street location, the city cited the Macks for storing vehicles, trailers and materials such as cut wood on the property, which is zoned for residential use.

The Macks’ suit alleges a city code enforcement officer found no issue with the vehicles during an early visit, and that vehicle storage should be considered a “nonconforming pre-existing use,” a term that implies long-standing code violations can be allowed because it was always done that way.

The hearing examiner rejected the Macks’ argument and found no evidence of the site being used consistently in that manner over the years.

The Macks also accuse the city of conspiracy to drive them out of town. They claim that emails they obtained through a public records request demonstrate “the City’s goal is to systematically expel the Mack Houses from Marysville. The City is using its land use code as the means of achieving its goal.”

That’s a charge the hearing examiner also rejected.

But attorney Scott Stafne, representing the Macks, said the city’s actions have the impact of violating the religious freedom of churches.

“The fact that the city doesn’t want to recognize this as a church doesn’t make the fact that it is a church go away,” Stafne said.

Stafne also said that the city is overlooking the societal good that the Macks do in providing former inmates with a stable environment and, through the ministerial program, the ability to re-enter society as productive members.

“They believe the best interests of all are served by these folks helping each other and trying to serve the Lord,” Stafne said.

Several calls to the city attorney were not returned.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com.

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