Hearing examiner OKs plan for ‘low-barrier’ housing in Everett

EVERETT — An Everett hearing examiner has approved key permit decisions that will allow the city and Catholic Housing Services to build apartments for homeless people on city-owned property.

Hearing Examiner James Driscoll’s ruling outlines several conditions that would allow the city to subdivide the 21.6-acre parcel it owns on Berkshire Drive so the nonprofit can build its project on one of the lots.

Catholic Housing has proposed a four-story apartment building with 65 units at 6107 Berkshire Drive, half a block from Evergreen Way. The site abuts a neighborhood where many people are opposed to the idea.

The project is considered “low-barrier” housing because it will allow people who are suffering from addiction, mental illness or other disabilities to live there. Social workers will be on site to provide or connect the residents with counseling and treatment, but using those services won’t be required.

Most of the conditions outlined in Driscoll’s decision are standard for an apartment complex, such as providing adequate fire department access and ensuring no trees are planted above underground utilities.

The more specific conditions related to the building itself largely conform with the plan already presented by Catholic Housing.

Catholic Housing will be required to present a site-management plan that lays out the rules for resident behavior. The nonprofit plans to screen applicants for arson offenses, sex offenses, drug manufacturing activity and violent crimes.

The most significant new physical conditions require the installation of new street lighting along Berkshire Drive and landscaping that both creates a barrier while also allowing good visibility into the interior of the property.

The west slope of the property leading down to Evergreen Way, for example, has been the site of periodic homeless encampments, and the plan would require the slope to be maintained and landscaped to be attractive but with enough visibility to prevent it from continuing to be a magnet for that type of activity.

The decision is unlikely to appease neighbors in the nearby Pinehurst-Glacier View neighborhood.

Several of them have criticized the city’s handling of the project. Many people have expressed fears that it will lead to an increase in crime in an already challenged neighborhood.

At the public hearing on May 18, one of the neighbors, Aaron Powell, summed up many of those concerns.

“It’s not just a fear of change, it’s the knowledge that drugs will be introduced into our neighborhood,” Powell said.

Those criticisms have come in spite of assurances from the city and Catholic Housing that the new project would not be a magnet for drug activity or other crimes.

Unlike emergency shelters, where people often have to line up daily outside in order to be admitted, the new project provides permanent and secure housing for pre-selected people. Similar to other Catholic Housing properties, the doors are locked to the outside, and staff screens and approves anyone entering.

The city and Catholic Housing both have said they anticipate beginning work later this summer.

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

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