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)

Housing Hope’s playfield proposal splits planning commission

After a 3-3 vote on the land-use changes, no recommendation will be given to the Everett City Council.

EVERETT — A nonprofit’s application to bring multi-family housing to one of Everett’s historic neighborhoods divided the city planning commission Tuesday night.

The request seeks to amend a pair of land-use designations that would allow Housing Hope to convert a three-acre ball field in the Port Gardner Neighborhood into 44 units of supportive housing for homeless Everett School District students and their families. Neighbors of the field have consistently expressed opposition to the project.

Commissioners were split 3-3 on the request that would rezone a portion of the site for multi-family housing and would remove the field from the Norton-Grand historic overlay zone — a designation that applies design standards and neighborhood conservation guidelines to specific districts in the city to retain an area’s unique character.

The tie means that no formal recommendation from the planning commission will be made to the Everett City Council, which will make a final decision on the application following public comment at a meeting tentatively scheduled for Oct. 14. Two planning commissioners recused themselves from the discussion, and another was absent from the meeting.

This is the second time the project has come before the planning commission. Last November, the commission recommended halting Housing Hope’s request to proceed with the project without undergoing a comprehensive analysis of the plan.

“I think we are making progress on this,” Fred Safstrom, CEO of Housing Hope, told The Daily Herald on Wednesday. “All and all, we saw some good support from the planning commissioners and we’ve come a long ways from where we were the last time around. … There are people, both on the commissioners and neighbors, that are going to oppose the project no matter what we do.”

Residents who spoke during the meeting’s public comment portion mostly opposed the plan, describing it as a vanity project and not a real attempt to house the homeless. Another speaker described it as a bad idea that would damage the neighborhood.

Dozens of people submitted written comments both in favor and against the project. They can be read on the planning commission’s website.

Last month, the city’s historic commission voted 6-2 against the application, recommending that the planning commission reject the proposal to revise historic standards in the neighborhood to accommodate Housing Hope’s construction.

“I am completely sympathetic to everyone’s concerns, particularly the concerns of the historic commission, however this is a unique opportunity to actually house students in the Everett School District,” Planning Commissioner Kathryn Beck said Tuesday night. “I understand the criteria for historic districts, and there are no features on this property that warrant significant historic consideration … however, my concern for the students of this school district far outweighs that.”

Concerns listed by the project’s opponents Tuesday night included an increase in traffic, qualms about the project being too dense and not dense enough, the loss of green space in the neighborhood and impacts to surrounding property values.

“Sometimes you can’t win,” Safstrom said. “Our objective has been to find a balance between the neighborhood wants and the community needs.”

The Everett School District owns the property, which has been an unofficial park for decades, and is leasing it to Housing Hope for $1 per year with the expectation that the site will be used to house some of the district’s more than 1,200 homeless students.

The lease agreement allows Housing Hope to prioritize students from the district, as opposed to complying with the county’s coordinated entry system, which does not permit such prioritization.

“This will be 44 very much needed units of housing that 44 families will be extremely grateful for,” Safstrom said Tuesday night.

Tuesday’s meeting lasted two hours as Housing Hope presented the proposal, commissioners took time with questions, public comments were heard and the final vote was taken.

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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