An artist’s rendering of plans for development of a three-acre playfield leased by Housing Hope in Everett. (Housing Hope)

An artist’s rendering of plans for development of a three-acre playfield leased by Housing Hope in Everett. (Housing Hope)

Everett council rejects supportive housing plan at playfield

Housing Hope’s plan to develop the field, to house homeless students and their families, failed by a 4-2 vote.

EVERETT — An undeveloped three-acre ball field in Everett’s Port Gardner neighborhood will remain that way.

The Everett City Council voted 4-2 Wednesday evening to reject a nonprofit’s application to amend city land-use designations to allow for multifamily supportive housing.

It would have provided shelter for some of the 1,300 homeless students in Everett and their families.

The council’s vote effectively ends Housing Hope’s proposal for an 11-building, 44-unit complex at the grassy space along Norton Avenue.

Council members Scott Bader, Scott Murphy, Brenda Stonecipher and Judy Tuohy rejected the amendment. Liz Vogeli and Paul Roberts favored the project. Councilman Jeff Moore recused himself from the discussion due to a potential conflict of interest.

“Not every opportunity is the right one to accept,” council President Tuohy said. “We absolutely need this type of project for our community and we need to do more for our homeless. To me, this location is just not the right fit.”

Tuohy owns a home in the neighborhood.

The site proposal resulted in hours of public comment and hundreds of letters to the council. Deemed surplus land by Everett School District and passed over by the city for a park, Housing Hope agreed to lease the field for $1 per year to build the housing for homeless students.

Some neighbors vocally opposed the project, saying much of Everett’s affordable housing is already located in the neighborhood. They also noted complaints about other Housing Hope projects. Two petitions, each with more than 230 signatures, urged the council to reject the application.

Council member Stonecipher described the decision as heart-wrenching and difficult, but said it was unfairly framed as a choice between housing homeless students and catering to property owners.

“We have supported affordable housing at all turns in our city,” she said. “There are other interests, there are neighborhoods, people make investments when they purchase a home.”

The request asked the city to rezone two-thirds of the site, from single-family to multi-family, and to remove that portion of the field from the Norton-Grand historic overlay zone — a designation that applies design standards and conservation guidelines to specific districts in the city to retain an area’s character.

It was presented as a unique opportunity to prioritize Everett School District students through an exemption granted by the county, allowing the nonprofit to focus on that specific population.

Housing Hope CEO Fred Safstrom said the council’s decision brought incredible sadness. The nonprofit will not be moving forward with a project on the site, and the vote likely ends Housing Hope’s lease with the Everett School District.

“I just think Everett is better than this,” he said. “That decision does not reflect the views of a majority of our citizens.”

Safstrom said Housing Hope will continue discussions with the school district and other public entities to find an alternative path to housing some of the hundreds of homeless students in Everett.

Advisory votes from historical and planning commissions either opposed the proposal or provided no recommendation, a factor that numerous council members cited in their decision.

The historical commission voted 6-2 against the application, with concern that altering the overlay zone would set a bad precedent, and the planning commission sent no guidance to the council after a 3-3 stalemate.

“With no recommendation from those groups, it is a very difficult and challenging issue for us to move forward and ignore their hard work and positions,” Murphy said.

In favoring the project, Vogeli and Roberts said it was an opportunity to fill a clear need in the community, with a developer willing to go the extra mile.

“This vote is not about taking away space, but instead it is about creating space,” Vogeli said.

Other civic leaders supported the project through comments to the council. Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said in a statement after the council’s vote that the city has a serious crisis ahead ensuring school-aged children are housed.

“Every time we delay action on housing, it takes months if not years to find another safe and suitable site,” she said. “Increasing density and making any changes in our neighborhoods is always hard and is met with a lot of concern and fear. But I believe this project would have brought us a step closer to creating homes for families in our community and an opportunity for children to learn and grow and thrive.”

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

Ian Davis-Leonard reports on working class issues through Report for America, a national service program that places emerging journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues. To support Ian’s work at The Daily Herald with a tax-deductible donation, go to www.heraldnet.com/support.

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