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Sunday, September 24, 2023
Sept. 24, 2023

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Vancouver human services measure in limbo

City council wants more work done on ordinance

By , Columbian politics reporter

City staff were optimistic earlier this year that a two-year review process of the Human Services Facility Siting Ordinance would conclude Monday night. But after the fourth council workshop in two years, it appears the council is still not ready to approve — or consider — a draft ordinance.

The controversial aforementioned ordinance was first implemented in 1991 to regulate where services, including soup kitchens and day centers, could locate. A formal review of the ordinance began in July 2016 to address potential discrimination based on physical abilities and familial status, both protected in the Fair Housing Act.

The issue has spent the last several months before the Planning Commission, which forwarded a draft proposal to the council Monday. Essentially, the proposal would repeal the Human Services Facility Siting Ordinance in its entirety and amend the existing land-use code to allow service facilities to locate anywhere like services are allowed. For example, shelters could locate wherever commercial lodging is allowed and food or clothing pantries could locate where sales-oriented retail businesses are allowed. A new category, community centers, is proposed for facilities like day centers.

But the draft ordinance also calls for conditional-use permits for shelters, soup kitchens and day centers. Performance standards were also proposed. These standards include requiring either indoor or covered outdoor seating open to customers at least one hour before check-in, a litter-control plan to manage a 200-foot radius, an indoor-only storage area for belongings and restrooms to serve the expected number of clients at peak times.

Some of the council were concerned with how equitable these restrictions are. Some might make it harder for meal programs to operate in Vancouver, for example.

“Putting more restrictions and making it harder actually defeats the purpose, in my opinion,” said Councilor Alishia Topper.

Community and Economic Development Director Chad Eiken said the performance standards are not necessary; the conditional-use permit allows the city to attach operating conditions.

“This still needs a lot of work, I’m not ready to see a draft ordinance on this,” Topper added. “I’m not convinced it’s the right solution. I think it’s premature.”

Unintended consequences of the proposed changes were also a concern for the council.

Eiken said they don’t know what potential consequences there could be, but the city usually checks in after a year or so to see what issues might occur and makes tweaks to the new ordinance as needed.

Still, the council was skeptical that a vote on the ordinance would occur according to the new timeline. Staff had suggested a final Planning Commission hearing June 8, with a council hearing in July to approve. The ordinance would tentatively go into effect in August.

Councilor Bart Hansen said more review is needed but sees Monday’s conversation as a step forward. Councilor Ty Stober concurred that he’s not comfortable with where the ordinance stands.

The council plans to continue the discussion but set no timeline for further talks or consideration of the ordinance.

Columbian politics reporter