The Puyallup City Council voted last week to extend its moratorium on halfway houses as it seeks strict regulation on shared housing for sex offenders and violent felons.
The council imposed the moratorium last August after residents raised concerns about the owner of a residence in the 2300 block of Shaw Road who expressed interest in housing veterans there. The owner acknowledged some of them could be newly released prisoners, including sex offenders.
The moratorium was due to expire Feb. 7. Following the Jan. 22 vote, city staffers have been asked to present a draft ordinance to regulate halfway houses for council consideration Feb. 5.
State law regulates where sex offenders can live to protect public safety, and it bars cities and towns from imposing stricter rules, but Deputy City Attorney Steve Kirkelie said after the meeting that officials would test those boundaries.
“Push the envelope,” Council member Steve Vermillion directed city lawyers, who will draft the proposed ordinance. “Don’t be fearful of litigation.”
“The more attempts we can make to stop this, the better,” council member John Hopkins added. “The ones (regulations) that will get challenged will get challenged, but hopefully will leave the rest intact.”
Property owner Larry Parson said in an interview Jan. 22 that he never intended to open a halfway house. He said he wants to offer low-cost housing for disadvantaged veterans. He said it’s possible, but not guaranteed, that some residents would be recent prison inmates.
Parson said he’s repairing the house and talking to veterans organizations that could screen tenants to ensure they’re not a danger to residents. He hopes to have that process wrapped up in March.
The project has “morphed into something unrecognizable,” Parson said.
“Nobody wanted to listen to what we had to say, including the City Council,” he added.
Meanwhile, the city is getting help in Olympia. Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, has introduced legislation that would limit to three the number of sex offenders who can reside together if they are using rental vouchers provided by the state Department of Corrections after they’re released from custody.
Dammeier said in a statement that the legislation, Senate Bill 5105, is intended to “give more flexibility to cities like Puyallup to establish ordinances and codes to address this very issue.” A companion bill has been introduced in the House.
Options proposed by staffers for council feedback included requiring a business license for places that house two or more sex offenders, restricting halfway houses to commercial and industrial zones, and requiring a bond and on-site security.
City regulations allow up to six unrelated people to live together, but they place no controls or limits on sex offenders or felons.
The council’s comments came after passionate testimony from residents.
Roxanne Miller, 35, burst into tears as she described being a victim of sexual abuse who unknowingly bought a home in December that neighbors the proposed halfway house. After the meeting, Miller said she had been abused by an uncle from the time she was an infant until she was 11.
Miller, who is married and pregnant with a second child, did extensive research online to find the neighborhood with the best schools and verified that the home wasn’t near registered sex offenders. She learned of the proposal on her first day in her new home, when a resident alerted her.
“It’s appalling,” she said of the proposed facility.Reporter Christian Hill can be reached at 253-274-7390 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @TNTchill.