Vancouver City Council approves day center site purchase

$4.3 million sale should be final Jan. 24 despite concerns from neighbors

By Katy Sword, Columbian staff writer

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The city of Vancouver will purchase 2.53 acres in central Vancouver to relocate its day center for the homeless.

The City Council approved the $4.3 million purchase agreement Monday evening just three days after hearing examiner Sharon Rice approved the center’s relocation.

The controversial site, 2018 Grand Blvd., is the former state Fish and Wildlife building. It will take the place of the city’s day center now located at 1600 W. 20th St. The sale will close Jan. 24.

The day center brought out many residents on both sides of the issue, although many of the speakers during Monday’s meeting voiced their opposition to the center. Concerns include a drop in property values, an increase in crime and unfair consequences for the neighborhoods still working to recover from the recession.

A few who spoke, however, including Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant, lauded the city’s decision.

LaBrant said he lives near the current day center and has seen his property value double and is disappointed by the assumptions made by those opposing the site location.

“Being poor and being a criminal are not the same thing,” he said. “Morally, it’s the right thing to do.”

Vancouver plans to convert 5,000 square feet of the 26,578-square foot building into a day center featuring laundry facilities, showers, restrooms, storage and other services beneficial to those experiencing homelessness. The city plans for about 50 people to use the center daily during its operating hours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Rich Baranzano, who owns the Fourth Plain Plaza shopping center, said of the day center users, “they’ll be breaking into cars and sleeping in yards.” He also questioned why the city would risk purchasing the site when he alleges it can’t be used for a day center. Baranzano intends to appeal the hearing examiner’s decision allowing the site use.

Rice’s approval includes conditions before the day center can be finalized, such as implementing a litter control and maintenance plan, as well as an outdoor waiting area physically separate from the public right of way. Despite numerous public comments, including a divisive public meeting Dec. 19, Rice determined many of the expressed concerns were unfounded.

“The concerns expressed by neighboring residential property and business owners were not about the on-site activities during business hours, and no one offered evidence or even put forward allegations that the operation of the day center itself as proposed would cause impacts adverse to surrounding uses,” Rice wrote in her decision.

“Despite the strong feelings and deep worries expressed in written and verbal comments from project opponents, the record contains no empirical data that tend to show their concerns would be realized,” she continued. “Their concerns are best characterized as generalized community displeasure primarily based on stereotypes rather than on professional experience.”

Appeal expected

Similar concerns were expressed at Monday’s meeting, including claims that those experiencing homelessness would spread hepatitis in the surrounding neighborhoods.

City Attorney Bronson Potter said the city anticipates an appeal of Rice’s decision.

“But I was very much involved in the process and I think we satisfied the criteria for the permit,” Potter said.

The council collectively acknowledged citizen concerns but assured residents the day center is necessary.

“I understand your concerns and I hear you, but not doing something is not an option in my mind,” said Councilor Alishia Topper.

Councilor Linda Glover added that the city is trying to do the right thing.