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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Vancouver eyes 2 options for service facilities

City continues work to address issue

By Katy Sword, Columbian politics reporter
Published: October 8, 2018, 7:48pm

City of Vancouver staff have been working on a replacement Human Service Facilities Siting ordinance for the last 2 1/2 years. It’s going to take a little longer before the Vancouver City Council is comfortable with a new ordinance, but in theory, the finish line is in sight.

The Vancouver Planning Commission completed its final look at the ordinance last month and doubled down on its initial recommendation, despite council’s request to reduce unintentional consequences on service providers.

As it stands now, the planning commission’s preferred option, known as Option A, would reclassify human service facilities and implement performance standards for shelters, day centers and group meal services. These services would also need a conditional use permit and public review process before moving forward with new facilities.

Option B proposes the same reclassification system where facilities can locate according to similar existing land uses, but eliminates conditional use permits and performance standards.

After reviewing the two proposals, the city council expressed interest in a hybrid option, although what a hybrid ordinance might contain is unclear.

Council could theoretically keep performance standards for some uses, while eliminating the requirement for others. Or consider the same restricted application for conditional use permits.

What was clear in Monday’s meeting is the majority of the council is concerned with equitable rules and unintended consequences.

As Councilor Ty Stober described it, some of the restrictions aren’t “passing the smell test for me.”

Requiring conditional use permits for shelters but not hotels, for example, which would fall under the same land use category if the proposed ordinance moves forward. Neighbors of both developments might have concerns they would like to express, Stober said, and making the process easier for hotels seems questionable.

“It’s really hard not to interpret bias in that,” he added.

Councilor Bart Hansen asked what problem the city is trying to solve with the proposed restrictions, citing issues with litter, for example, at many different restaurants as an example of potential bias against social service facilities.

“A land use ordinance is an ineffective way to get at issues,” Chad Eiken, the city’s Community and Economic Development director, conceded.

Another unintended consequence is placing additional restrictions on community centers like the Firstenburg Community Center. Eiken said staff wasn’t able to distinguish between community centers and day centers for the homeless.

“Operationally, they’re the same,” he said.

In the future, that means community centers would also be required to obtain a conditional use permit for new facilities if Option A is approved.

Rather than work out a hybrid ordinance in a workshop, council will move forward with a first reading of both ordinances. This choice stems from city code that requires the council to consider the planning commission’s recommendation. A first reading would satisfy that requirement. The council intends to develop its compromise proposal at the first reading, scheduled for Nov. 26.

The new ordinance could be in effect as early as Jan. 4, 2019.

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Columbian politics reporter