The open field on Norton Avenue is the site of a proposed housing development for students and their families who are experiencing homelessness. The City of Everett may revoke an ordinance that allowed supportive housing in single-family residences. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

The open field on Norton Avenue is the site of a proposed housing development for students and their families who are experiencing homelessness. The City of Everett may revoke an ordinance that allowed supportive housing in single-family residences. (Sue Misao / The Herald)

Supportive housing may be barred from single-family zones

The Everett City Council is set to vote on the issue, which may delay homeless student housing.

EVERETT — Supportive housing could be kept from single-family neighborhoods under zoning proposals being considered by the Everett City Council.

After months of heated public meetings, the council is expected to vote on amendments Wednesday. If approved, the zoning change would bar supportive housing in single-family zones. Instead, that land use would be relegated to the city’s multi-family commercial mixed-use zones.

The city had to confront possible changes after Port Gardner neighbors criticized preliminary plans for 34 to 50 low- to moderate-income apartments for students and their families experiencing homelessness along Norton Avenue. There were 1,266 students who experienced homelessness in the 2017-18 school year, according to the district and state data.

In December, the City Council extended a moratorium on such developments and asked the planning director to work with a few members on the zoning code change. What came back effectively kills supportive housing in single-family neighborhoods.

“The proposed changes to the ordinance effectively close that process for considering this project at that location,” Housing Hope CEO Fred Safstrom said. “Obviously there’s been a lot of opposition to the project at that location, and I think that has influenced the council’s decision.”

A partnership, believed to be the first of its kind in the state, between the Everett School District and Housing Hope would have built the apartments in several two-story buildings, each containing three to four units.

A 2016 city ordinance allowed supportive housing on publicly owned land in single-family zones. Allan Giffen, the city’s planning director, has said there are only four locations where that would apply, including the 3600 block of Norton Avenue.

At the council’s request and planning commission’s recommendation, he proposed removing supportive housing as a permitted use in single-family zones. One potential gain for future supportive housing is that off-street parking could be lower than for standard multi-family housing. Each proposal’s parking requirements would be reviewed case by case.

“Going forward, supportive housing is regulated the same as multiple family housing,” Giffen said in an email. “So it will be allowed in any zone that allows multiple family housing, as required by state law enacted in 2019.”

The revised changes could mean another year in the permit process, Safstrom said.

The issue for the city is maintaining consistent use as required by the zoning.

“I support supportive housing in every zone,” said Councilmember Paul Roberts, who once served as the city’s planning director. “But just because it exists on public property doesn’t mean it can ignore the design standards.”

Safstrom said Housing Hope formed a neighborhood design committee for the project and committed to limit what could be built there. The hope was that by limiting the size of buildings closest to the roadway, the city would permit higher structures and different uses, such as an early childhood learning center, at the back of the property.

“We’ve always anticipated that the design would include structures along Norton that would be compatible with the neighborhood,” Safstrom said.

The lot owned by the school district has been an empty field for years. Neighbors said it effectively is a neighborhood park.

In May 2019, the district and nonprofit agreed to a 75-year lease for the housing on about 3 acres. It was supposed to be done by June 30, 2025. That timeline is less certain now.

An emergency moratorium in June 2019 halted Housing Hope’s plans and spurred months of salvos between neighbors who said they wanted to preserve their area’s character and home values and those who wanted to see children and families given shelter.

It was far from callous people trying to keep kids from having a home, several neighbors and council members said at previous meetings. In December, Councilmember Scott Murphy criticized the conversation as “being painted as not caring about homeless children.”

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037. Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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