“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead
Culminating in a large community meeting on Wednesday August 1st, the people of Puyallup rose up en masse to protest the creation of a proposed halfway house. The Parsons family purchased a large abandoned home on the edge of District 3 (Shaw and 23rd) for the stated purpose of providing shelter for veterans. Prior to this meeting most of us knew few facts about the plans and we all came out to learn what the experts had to say.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
― Mother Teresa
A small group of nearby neighbors started a Facebook group and rallied the community. They also spearheaded an online petition. They quickly gained attention from other residents with the facebook group nearing 400 members and over 1100 digital signatures on the petition. Ultimately drawing the attention of both city officials and the media.
The meeting on Wednesday was organized primarily by City Councilman Tom Swanson, one of the two Puyallup District 3 representatives. He helped bring together several other councilmen, Department of Corrections personnel, city staff, non-profit activists and the property owner himself. State Representatives Hans Zeiger and Bruce Dammeier were also on hand to show support for the communities’ concerns.
I believe Tom Utterback’s presentation on zoning was meant to convey a few things. First, the zoning regulations and city ordinances simply won’t accommodate this type of enterprise as the vision had been explained to the city. They could have a maximum of six unrelated residents, however, the moment they received government funding, the facility would require an entire set of permits to operate. No permit applications have been filed and with no government funding available the program could not be sustained. [Author’s Note: As pointed out on the facebook page, an alternative plan of targeting those felons release who also have disability benefits was an aspect to the plan. This could circumvent the permitting issue provided they were able to collect enough of that money per resident to make a profit.]
“You may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there will be no results.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
Hundreds of local residents were on hand to speak up and to oppose this venture, and rightly so. Mrs. Rogers and Mr. Parsons clearly had a personal agenda, continually evading questions or skewing the replies to favor only the most benign of possible outcomes. As they continued to avoid directly answering legitimate concerns, the spirit of the people continued to rise. Though there were a small number of people in support of the project, or at least, similar projects, there was largely a unified voice, calling for the safety and protection of our children and families.
The idea of providing transitional housing for veterans who have returned from service to find themselves without a home, or perhaps even those vets who have been recently released from prison may seem virtuous on the surface. The problem is there is no way to restrict the housing to veterans and neither can there be any guarantee that the residents hadn’t been convicted of sex crimes. Aside from being surrounded by local homes and school bus routes, the home is located a few hundred feet away from a church and daycare and within a couple miles from three elementary schools. Providing a “target rich” environment for convicted sex offenders is negligent at best and chaotically destructive at worst. It’s also irresponsible to plan on having no onsite staff to oversee the operation.
“I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a period of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
Midway into the evening each City Councilman present took to the microphone stating that the people had been heard and they would not allow the project to move forward. The evening continued with a lot of questions and very few answers, but the tone had been set, the will of the community had been recognized and the city officials stand with the people.
“If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein
The following represents my personal and somewhat biased impressions as well as some speculation.
I worried throughout the evening that many of the explanations and conclusions weren’t being delivered clearly enough. The people had the singular goal of being heard and wishing for the officials to protect their loved ones by not allowing the project to move forward in that (or perhaps any) location. Until that very thing was spoken outright by the city council the tension in the room continued to escalate.
I believe Tom Utterback’s presentation on Zoning was meant to convey a few things. First, the zoning regulations and city ordinances simply won’t accommodate this type of enterprise as the vision had been explained to the city. They could have a maximum of six unrelated residents, however, the moment they received government funding, the facility would require an entire set of permits to operate. No permit applications have been filed and with no government funding available the program could not be sustained.
The representative from the Department of Corrections also seemed to be pretty imprecise, leaving his commentary to appear very evasive. Though he stated something to the effect of “we have no plans to implement or facilitate this type of venture in Puyallup” he could have instead said something like “we will not be funding this project” and been much more clear.
“The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.”
― Gloria Steinem
In addition, I found it troubling that the proprietor of the non-profit company who seeks to place these released felons was also the real estate agent who sold the house to Mr. Parsons. She has a clear motivation to see it move forward and seemed to share none of the citizens concerns.
The council has announced a special meeting on August 7th at 3PM to discuss and probably vote for a moratorium on halfway houses within the city limits of Puyallup. I’m not certain this is strictly legal because by state law these types of care facilities cannot be banned altogether. Honestly, I have to do more research to verify that opinion, but I believe the same result could be achieved by either placing a moratorium on halfway houses in residential zones only, or perhaps on on all Conditional Use Permits.
The purpose of this moratorium is to give the city time to work out the exact ordinances and policies and to get it all put into place. By private sector standards these are not typically very swift procedures, but the moratorium will provide the city with all the time it needs.
Part of the reason this issue came up is the city hadn’t previously had a reason to define or geographically restrict this type of transitional housing. Since there is no specific restriction on them, they are allowed everywhere.
The following is also unverified, but I think we could pretty easily accomplish the citizens goals. If we establish a definition for these kinds of halfway houses we can then strictly allow them in specific zones such as Medical and/or Light Industrial (these are only examples, I’m sure there are more appropriate locations available then “residential,” near relevant services and transportation perhaps). We then add in other needed restrictions such as “cannot be located within XX feet of a residence” or “must be located within XX feet of a bus line.”
I believe it’s safe to say we’re all in good hands, the people have been heard and this important matter will certainly be dealt with.
Please check out the facebook page, contact your representatives, and get involved. This is no time to relax.Chris McNutt District 3 Planning Commissioner