Signs have popped up in the Port Gardner neighborhood against a proposal by the Everett School District and Housing Hope to build affordable housing on a playfield on Norton Avenue. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Signs have popped up in the Port Gardner neighborhood against a proposal by the Everett School District and Housing Hope to build affordable housing on a playfield on Norton Avenue. (Lizz Giordano / The Herald)

Emergency moratorium stalls project for homeless students

Everett City Council placed a six-month ban on supportive housing buildings in single-family zones.

EVERETT — A proposal by the Everett School District and Housing Hope to build affordable apartments for homeless students in the Port Gardner neighborhood has been halted for at least six months.

The Everett City Council unanimously passed an emergency ordinance Wednesday night placing a moratorium on supportive housing in single-family residential zones.

The ban, put forward by Councilmembers Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy, goes into effect immediately and will last for six months.

Without the council action, Stonecipher said supportive housing could have been located in areas of the city that may not be compatible with the existing neighborhood.

The pause will give the City Council time to evaluate zoning policy.

Stonecipher’s concerns included allowing density in areas that she said lack necessary infrastructure, such as parking. Also, market-rate developers would not have been allowed to build a similar project, she said.

Councilmember Paul Roberts, who once served as the city’s planning director, said the action wasn’t aimed at the Housing Hope project.

“We aren’t saying we aren’t supporting supportive housing,” Roberts said. “But we also support preservation of neighborhood integrity.”

Councilmember Jeff Moore, who is the executive director of finance for the school district, recused himself from the vote.

The district in May agreed to a 75-year lease with the housing nonprofit for the 3-acre plot in the 3600 block of Norton Avenue. Preliminary designs call for 34 units of housing for low-to-moderate income families with students enrolled in Everett public schools. The building also could include an early childhood center, as large as 10,000 square feet.

The district had 1,266 students experiencing homelessness last year, according to data from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Under current city zoning code, the two-story building as described to the city by the developer would be allowed to go forward, according to Meghan Pembroke, an executive director in the mayor’s office. Rules require supportive housing be sponsored by a government entity or a qualified nonprofit provider.

In 2016, the City Council approved changes to zoning code that allowed supportive housing to be built in single-family zones, if the land was owned by a public agency.

“There are aspects of this code that I don’t think we were aware of in terms of the degree these kind of developments might be intruding into single-family zones,” Roberts said.

The Housing Hope plan has faced sharp criticism from some. Opponents, particularly in the Port Gardner neighborhood, say the school district and Housing Hope blindsided the neighborhood, and a single-family area is not the appropriate place for this kind of project. A group, Residents for Norton Playfield, has been speaking out against the proposed development.

“I’m urging the city of Everett to deny this proposal, to preserve home values in the area, maintain low-density residential land use and maintain the quality and character of our existing neighborhood,” said Lindsey Jungbluth, who lives close to the lot, during public comment.

A few spoke in favor of the plan during the council meeting.

“Green space is not in short supply in this neighborhood, but for many in our community, housing is,” said Tim Ellis, who owns a home nearby.

With the moratorium, Ed Petersen, chief strategic officer at Housing Hope and HopeWorks, said the project will be put on hold. The nonprofit is considering other options in the meantime.

“We have a setback here, and that is not optimal for addressing what I consider a crisis situation,” Petersen said after the vote. “The decision-making process to lease the land wasn’t optimal and led to trust issues and complications.”

A public hearing about the moratorium has to be held within 60 days of its adoption.

Lizz Giordano: 425-374-4165; egiordano@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @lizzgior.

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