More than two years have passed since Share opened a day center for the homeless in a location the city of Vancouver knew could only temporarily fill the need. Now — nearly 150 days after finalizing a proposal — the city can finally move forward with opening a permanent day center, thanks to the city council’s unanimous decision Monday to uphold an approval of the project.
In October 2017, the city began the process to buy the former state Department of Fish and Wildlife building at 2018 Grand Blvd. in Vancouver. Months of hearings followed, leading to the city council’s unanimous vote in January to purchase the site and begin renovations.
Before construction could begin, two neighborhood associations filed an appeal, putting the project on hold.
The city fully anticipated the appeal.
“We totally understand that no matter where we put a service for the homeless, it’s going to have backlash,” Peggy Sheehan, Vancouver’s community and economic development programs manager, said in July 2017, months before the day center’s location was finalized.
A hearing on the appeals filed by the Maplewood and Rose Village neighborhood associations was scheduled for Feb. 26. But, instead of proceeding with the hearing, the council remanded the project’s application to the hearing examiner. Days before the hearing, the city attorney’s office discovered that about 10 e-mails had not been disclosed in full due to a technical issue with archival software. Hearing Examiner Sharon Rice considered the remand and decided March 15 that her previous decision would stand and Vancouver could continue its appeal process.
Day Center at a Glance
• 26,578 square feet
• 5,000 square feet reserved for day center
• 2.53 acre site
• $4.3 million purchase price
• Building vacated by state Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2016
• Site intersects with the Central Park, Fourth Plain Village and Rose Village neighborhoods
• Operating hours for center would be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Expected to serve 50 people a day
Oct. 30: City announces intent to purchase building for homeless day center
Nov. 15: City hosts open house on proposal
Nov. 28: City hosts a second open house on day center project
Dec. 19: Hearing examiner holds public hearing on city proposal
Jan. 4: Hearing examiner approves day center project
Jan. 8: City Council approves purchase of day center property
Jan. 17: Maplewood and Rose Village neighborhood associations file formal appeal
Jan. 24: City purchase of property closes
Feb. 26: City Council remands decision to hearing examiner for reconsideration
March 15: Hearing examiner rules city can proceed with appeal hearing
March 26: Appeal hearing on day center
‘No clear error’
The closed-record hearing Monday night was one of two in more than 20 years, according to Assistant City Attorney Brent Boger, who represented the city in the hearing. The appeal followed a specific structure finalized by the council last month. Each party received 20 minutes to make its case and no public comment was accepted. No new evidence could be introduced, either.
Based on the allegations made in the appeal, the city needed to decide whether the day center was “significantly detrimental” to the neighborhood and whether the hearing examiner was clearly erroneous in her decision. Ultimately, the council found any impacts to the surrounding community had been mitigated by the examiner and no definite mistakes had been made.
“I do believe, based on the testimony and what we heard from both parties today, that safety, health and welfare have been addressed,” said Councilor Alishia Topper.
The council also concurred that the hearing examiner’s decision was based on quantitative, empirical data.
“I feel the hearing examiner’s decision was supported by substantive evidence and there was no clear error,” said Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle.
The foundational argument of the appeal was that the building was improperly classified as serving fewer people than it actually will. Appellant Eric Lambert, representing of the Rose Village Neighborhood Association, argued that rather than being rated as a Class III facility serving 74 people or less, the day center should be treated as a Class I or Class II facility serving more people, thus requiring more regulations. Lambert spoke on behalf of both neighborhoods.
“The more I dug, the more we feel like there’s some deception going on here,” Lambert said.
The associations alleged that the city is planning to expand the day center past the 5,000-square-foot proposal and that the space will host more than the 50 people the city expects.
“It’s completely unreasonable to believe this new facility will only serve 50 people a day,” he said.
The issue with that argument, however, is that no evidence was provided to support the claim, the city argued. The same was said of the appellants’ claim that the surrounding neighborhood would suffer undue harm.
Boger deferred to the hearing examiner’s ruling.
“Despite the strong feelings and deep worries expressed … the record contains no empirical data that tend to show their concerns would be realized,” Rice wrote in her decision. “In weighing these opposing opinions, the undersigned finds the opinions of those who work with and professionally study homeless populations, including law enforcement, to be more persuasive regarding impacts to the neighborhoods … Opposition of the community, without evidence … cannot justify a local land use decision.”
With the appeal resolved, work on the day center can begin. The city estimates renovations will cost about $500,000. A timetable for the work wasn’t immediately available, but once complete, the center will be open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. The site will feature six rest rooms with showers and laundry, as well as locker storage. Share will staff the facility.
If the city’s decision wasn’t upheld, the site would have likely been sold, said Chad Eiken, Vancouver’s community and economic development director. Since it’s moving forward, Topper asked the neighborhood associations to continue to work with the city as partners.
“I think we definitely share your hopes and have a similar objective,” Lambert said.
Councilor Ty Stober added that he hopes the community will use the opportunity to consider the day center as a neighborhood asset.
“There’s a lot more than 5,000 square feet in this building,” Stober said, “so there’s a lot more potential for it.”