Norton Playfield, a three-acre play field in Everett owned by Housing Hope, is seen from the sky July 23. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Norton Playfield, a three-acre play field in Everett owned by Housing Hope, is seen from the sky July 23. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Historic commission opposes zoning change for playfield plan

By a 6-2 vote, the commission advised against Housing Hope’s rezoning efforts on Norton Ave.

EVERETT — The Everett Historical Commission feared setting a precedent the city might someday regret.

The issue involved a land-use designation called an historical overlay zone and a controversial piece of property a nonprofit wants to convert to housing for homeless students. But the old and established neighborhood would just as soon see it remain as grassy open space.

The historic commission voted 6-2 against the rezoning application at an Aug. 25 meeting. In doing so, it recommended that the city’s planning commission reject a proposal to revise the historic overlay zone to accommodate construction.

Housing Hope submitted the request that would remove a portion of the three-acre ball field from the Norton-Grand historic overlay zone to make way for 11 buildings of supportive housing for homeless Everett School District students and their families. The school district owns the property, which has been an unofficial park for years.

“I think the precedent that a developer won’t or can’t comply with a historic overlay so we reduce the overlay is a really bad precedent,” said commissioner Amy Hieb. “I think it is a false choice between being in favor of housing homeless kids and needing to reduce the overlay in order to meet that goal.”

Historic overlay zones are designated districts in the city with design standards and neighborhood conservation guidelines to retain an area’s unique character.

Based on designs shared in July, Housing Hope and Designs Northwest Architects are requesting that two-thirds of the site be rezoned to multi-family housing, which would remove the historical requirements. One-third of the development would be single-family housing that matches the historical character of the neighborhood.

Housing Hope Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Kohl told The Daily Herald the rezoning application is an attempt to meet the requests of the community to build up instead of expanding out, resulting in the project’s deviation from historic commission guidelines.

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

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

“We still want to be in alignment with the historic commission, we still think the property should be tied to that, but the building and the requests of the community are important enough for us to take into consideration that the three feet above the historic overlay allowance and the height of the eaves should be considered as an exception,” Kohl said.

Public comment at the meeting predominately opposed the project. One woman said she was disgusted by the proposal, another neighbor said the increased density would change her family’s quality of life and a third neighbor said the open space is more necessary than housing for people who are homeless.

Ken Ries, a spokesperson for Residents for Norton Playfield, a group that opposes the project, said the single-family neighborhood simply isn’t the right location for the development. Based on previous decisions by the Everett City Council to ban large-scale supportive housing in single-family neighborhoods, Ries is confident the development will be denied.

“We appreciate that the city is listening to the neighbors and residents of Everett and realizing that much of the support for this project is coming from outside this city, and that as much as Housing Hope is trying to paint the picture that neighbors and residents support this project, that is not the case,” Ries said.

The historic commission’s advice will be passed along to the city planning commission, which will discuss the matter and hear public comment at a Sept. 15 meeting. The planning commission then sends a recommendation to the Everett City Council, which will make the final decision.

At the request of historic commission chairman Steve Fox, commissioner Tom Feeney wrote a letter to the planning commission outlining the concerns he heard during the Aug. 25 meeting and recommending the application to amend the historic overlay be denied.

“No information provided suggested the restrictions are too great a burden or render the project unviable,” Feeney wrote in part. “A more thorough evaluation of considerations and options is needed before accepting that the restrictions are an impediment to the projects’ viability.”

Kohl said the pushback from neighbors was anticipated because it is difficult to see a vacant property change, and that Housing Hope will continue to adjust to community needs.

“It is just a process and we are going to keep plugging through the process,” she said. “When you build buildings, it is normal to come up against these things and our job is to figure out how to keep moving forward and honor the neighborhood to the best of our ability.”

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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