Neighbors decry Everett’s approval of house for homeless

EVERETT — The Everett City Council voted Wednesday in favor of putting a house for homeless people into a largely residential neighborhood.

The decision came after months of acrimony from neighbors of the proposed project, which the city wants to put on a parcel of land that straddles the line between the Pinehurst-Beverly Park and Glacier View neighborhoods.

The council’s 6-0 vote clears the way for the next steps of the project, which include an environmental review and a planned transfer of the land to Catholic Housing Services, which will build and operate the 70-unit apartment house.

For the second week in a row, neighbors implored the council not to support the city’s choice of location.

Aaron Powell, who lives on Elliott Way, turned in a list of 150 signatures of nearby residents who were opposed to the project.

“None of the people who have signed this are people who hadn’t heard of it,” Powell said. “This is something we’re being railroaded into.”

Powell encouraged the council to table the motion and find another location, and said Councilman Scott Bader was conflicted because of his job with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle.

Bader had previously recused himself from all discussion and the vote to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. He did not vote Wednesday and was not in the room for the decision.

The city-owned property on Berkshire Drive was chosen in May from among 37 properties in the city. All of the others were rejected for a variety of reasons. In some cases it would cost too much money to buy or the lot was too small to develop a project of that size.

Criticism of the city and Mayor Ray Stephanson has focused on what neighbors said was the city’s forcing the project on them without notice or input. Many people are afraid that the project would lead to a decrease in property values and an increase in drug activity in a neighborhood already struggling to deal with a perceived high level of crime.

Bonny Davis, who lives on East Drive in View Ridge-Madison, said she knew who would live there.

“They come into my place of business all the time, they rob us blind, they shoot up in my bathrooms,” Davis said.

She said she would not tolerate them in the neighborhood and that she’d be armed if they came around.

Oden Olson, who lives along Berkshire Drive, also said the city has steamrolled the neighborhood with the first of its low-barrier housing facilities, and was afraid of an increase in crime.

“It’s the first one. Prove me wrong. Put it in your neighborhood,” Olson said. “You be the first, not us.”

Police Chief Dan Templeman said the crime rate in Pinehurst in 2015 was actually 19 percent below the average of the previous five years, and in Glacier View it was 34 percent below the five-year average.

Of the speakers, Molly Jo Bault, was one of the few who supported the project, getting inspired by a presentation last year by Lloyd Pendleton, the architect of Utah’s housing program.

“I came out with the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ Before the forum, I thought homelessness was normal,” Bault said.

Bault, who lives on Pecks Drive, said the city’s criteria in selecting the site were similar to her own in finding a place to live: close to stores and transit.

“There are people who are previously my neighbors who are now homeless. They are still my neighbors,” Bault said.

Donna Konicki, the CEO of Bridgeways, a nonprofit that provides services to people with mental health problems, including the homeless, also lives within a mile of the planned project. She said that she had to think hard what her position would be when the site was announced.

“Do I practice what I preach, or do I run from this?” She decided she needed to support the plan.

“This can be successful if it’s done right. Work with the neighbors, work with the community, help us help you be successful,” she said.

Last week, Stephanson told The Daily Herald that he regretted that the decision caught the neighbors by surprise and that he would rather have spent more time reaching out.

On Wednesday he again said he believes the Berkshire Drive property is the best location for the project.

“Moving forward with this location at the intersection of Berkshire and Evergreen Way is the right decision for the right reasons,” Stephanson said.

“I would not put this facility in any neighborhood if I thought it was a bad idea,” he said.

He acknowledged that some comments have been negative, but insisted they were in the minority and that the criticisms were not based on facts.

“What they are feeling is the fear of the unknown,” he said. “It’s time to move this project forward.”

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

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