Norton Playfield, a 3-acre ball field in Everett, is owned by Housing Hope. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Norton Playfield, a 3-acre ball field in Everett, is owned by Housing Hope. (Olivia Vanni / Herald file)

Vote nears on Housing Hope’s Everett playfield project

The Everett City Council will deliberate Wednesday on the multi-family, supportive housing proposal.

EVERETT — Eighteen months of discord around a multi-family, affordable housing project proposed for one of Everett’s historic neighborhoods may come to a head at the Everett City Council this week.

On Wednesday, the council will deliberate on the fate of Housing Hope’s application to amend a pair of land-use designations allowing the nonprofit to build supportive housing for homeless Everett School District students and families.

Hours of public comment, hundreds of letters, split commission recommendations and a pair of petitions have prefaced the council’s discussion. The project’s proposed site on Norton Avenue — a 3-acre ball field zoned for residential development in the Port Gardner Neighborhood — has divided community members since the start.

Owned by the Everett School District and leased to Housing Hope for $1 per year, the site offers a unique opportunity to house some of the district’s 1,200 homeless students by circumventing the county’s coordinated entry system, which does not permit such prioritization. Neighbors of the ball field want the unofficial park to remain as green space.

The request up for debate would rezone two-thirds of the site for multi-family housing and remove the field from the Norton-Grand historic overlay zone — designation that applies design standards and conservation guidelines to specific districts in the city to retain an area’s unique character. The amendment, if approved, would set the stage for Housing Hope’s 11-building, 44-unit development.

“We believe this proposal fairly balances neighborhood wants with community needs,” Housing Hope CEO Fred Safstrom said during the Oct. 14 council meeting. The organization formed a neighborhood group to advise on key aspects of the project, including access points, traffic mitigation and preserving the area’s charm.

City advisory committees haven’t been sold.

In September, the historical commission voted 6-2 recommending against the application with fears it would set a bad precedent to alter the overlay zone. Two weeks later, the planning commission deadlocked, 3-3, ultimately sending no recommendation to the city council.

Other Snohomish County civic leaders have favored the project, including state representatives June Robinson, D-Everett, and Emily Wicks, D-Everett, Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy, County Councilwoman Megan Dunn and the organizations that comprise the Human Service Executives of Snohomish County.

During public hearing and comments to the council, opinions have been largely split, but neighbors say outside influences are attempting to dictate what happens in their backyard.

“It seems easier to advocate for something in someone else’s neighborhood and not have to live with the consequences,” said Ken Ries, a spokesperson for Residents for Norton Playfield, a group that opposes the project, during the Oct. 14 public hearing. “If you really support this type of housing, advocate for it in your own neighborhood.”

Ries and others argue that the Port Gardner Neighborhood has a disproportionate amount of affordable housing compared to other neighborhoods in the city. Two petitions have more than 200 signatures asking the council to reject the proposal.

Safstrom said the housing need is robust. Thirty students at Sequoia High School and 12 at Jackson Elementary are homeless, he said, and those numbers were expected to more than double.

“I can say with confidence this project will not go beyond serving families with children that attend one of these two neighborhood schools,” he said.

The Everett City Council will be left to sort it out at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The seven-person legislative body has a variety of paths it can take, including approving only parts of the request. Councilman Jeff Moore, an employee for the Everett School District, a partner of Housing Hope on the project, has recused himself from all discussion.

Safstrom told The Daily Herald the project has a path forward if the historic overlay is not removed, but a rejection of the multi-family zoning change would likely end the proposal.

Single-family residences “would be too few of units and too high of a cost per unit,” Safstrom said.

If the council approves the amendments, a development agreement would be drafted, binding Housing Hope to site plans and building designs. That agreement would then be evaluated by the historical and planning commissions, as well as the city council before the project would move forward.

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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