Following months of community feedback and opposition regarding a proposed halfway house in the Shaw Road neighborhood, the Puyallup City Council passed a first reading 6-0 on Feb. 5 on an ordinance that would limit the number of sex offenders in residential areas.
The ordinance will come back for second reading and final approval at a council meeting next month.
As it’s written, the ordinance would prohibit two or more sex offenders or violent felons from living in the same residence in any residential zone in the city. A residence can include single-family housing or apartment buildings.
Council members are deciding whether to remove violent felons from the proposed zoning regulations to increase the ordinance’s chances to survive any potential legal challenge.
“The mood of the court is not going to allow us to do what we like to do,” council member John Knutsen said. “If we use our tools and not beat our own cause, we have a chance to succeed.”
Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen said there is no rush to adopt an ordinance because the moratorium will be in place through Aug. 7. He expressed a desire to work with residents to finalize rules that are strongly enforceable and allow the city “to break this new ground.”
“We might have to shrink it a little bit to enable us to enforce it,” he said.
The vote for a moratorium came last August after residents raised concerns about the owner of a residence in the 2300 block of Shaw Road possibly housing veterans there. He acknowledged some tenants could be newly released prisoners, including sex offenders.
Property owner Larry Parson has said critics have turned his project to offer low-cost housing for disadvantaged veterans “into something unrecognizable.” He didn’t rule out that recent prison inmates would live at his house but said that’s not a guarantee, either.
State law regulates where sex offenders can live, such as limiting their proximity to schools, but it bars cities and towns from imposing stricter rules.
Puyallup officials have pledged to test those boundaries. Before it extended the moratorium two weeks ago, council members expressed a willingness to go to court to defend an ordinance they feel is needed to safeguard residents.
The ordinance as it stands would allow two or more sex offenders and violent offenders to live together in the city’s central business area, but only if a property owner secures a conditional use permit. The ordinance specifies that the city would not issue a conditional use permit if a similar permit already has been issued for another dwelling within 880 feet.
It also would require that so-called “significant impact businesses” secure a new type of license. Those businesses include airports, hazardous waste sites, fireworks plants and shared housing for two or more sex offenders and violent felons.
The ordinance would give the city the authority to impose additional conditions on those businesses to address “harmful impacts on the community.” Conditions could include requirements for the business to provide “high amounts of liability insurance, to post a bond, or provide other types of security,” according to city documents.
Council members agreed they want the business license required for shared housing for both sex offenders and violent felons.
City regulations currently allow up to six unrelated individuals to live together; they place no additional rules on dwellings for sex offenders and violent felons.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers have proposed bills in Olympia to add conditions before the state Department of Corrections can issue rental vouchers used by registered sex offenders released from prison. The agency provides vouchers to inmates that are good for up to three months if they move from prison to community supervision under an approved release plan.
The legislation, Senate Bill 5105 and companion House Bill 1232, would require DOC to give local governments 30 days of notice before it issues a rental voucher. It also would mandate a city inspection of the dwelling, among other requirements.
But the bills have different conditions. For example, the House version would limit to three, with some exceptions, the number of sex offenders who could live under one roof; the Senate legislation would cap the number of beds at eight.
Both bills received committee hearings recently. Supporters say the legislation prevents landlords from abusing the voucher system, while critics say it jeopardizes stable housing for offenders that is necessary for them to return to society.Reporter Christian Hill: 253-274-7390, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter, @TNTchill.