The Puyallup City Council is poised to restrict new homeless shelters and drop-in centers to a small footprint in the northwest part of the city.
On Tuesday night, a majority of the council gave preliminary approval to a plan that would allow such uses only on 18 parcels within the city limits.
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Under the ordinance, homeless-serving facilities would be permitted in the Limited Manufacturing zone and require a 1,000-foot buffer between the facilities and “sensitive uses,” such as residential-zoned parcels, schools, parks, trails, libraries, day cares, preschools and special-needs senior housing.
That means in Puyallup, a homeless-serving facility would be permitted on about 54 acres of land within city limits.
The new requirements were hailed by some.
“It’s the right decision,” Puyallup business owner Tim Mellema said. “For the citizens it means they’re going to have better protection. (The facilities) are not going to be right next to our children, our parks. We have a lot of problems with vagrancy in the parks.”
“It’s important that we know there’s homeless and there’s vagrants and they’re two different things. So it’s an important thing to create that buffer,” Mellema added.
Others, including Councilwomen Julie Door and Robin Farris, called the plan too restrictive. Door and Farris were on the wrong end of the 5-2 vote.
“I am not going to support the motion,” Door said. “To me, this is too exclusionary.”
Farris, who announced at a previous meeting her disagreement over the approach to the issue, said the ordinance felt rushed and that she would like to seek other options.
“This ordinance is not adequate. It sets us up for liability for litigation ... I think we’re setting our citizens up for failure with this ordinance to put a check in the box,” she said.
The plan was one of six options the council considered. Other options considered included 500-foot and 250-foot buffers. Comparatively, the 500-foot buffer allowed for 62 available parcels. The 250-foot buffer allowed 108 available parcels.
A majority of council members supported the 1,000-foot buffer, citing crime and safety concerns around homeless-serving facilities.
For years, citizens have spoken during council meetings about issues of sanitation, security, theft, littering, illegal drug use, indecent exposure and other negative impacts occurring around businesses and in neighborhoods near an existing drop-in center, the New Hope Resource Center located at 414 Spring St.
Paula Anderson, executive director New Hope, said the plan has been to move. That no longer seems like an option, Anderson said, as the parcels presented in the new ordinance are either already developed or not accessible by public transportation.
“They want us to move but they’re not giving us an option of any place to move,” she said. “We’ve talked to the city multiple times and told them we’re willing to move, but we have to be able to go to a place where we can still provide our services.”
The current location of New Hope Resource Center would be grandfathered in, but the new ordinance would kick in if center officials decided to move to another site within Puyallup.
“If we move, we will lose the business,” Anderson said. “At this point, we don’t have any options but to stay in order to take care of our people.”
The ordinance is not final. Council plans to add verbiage that would allow those interested in opening homeless-serving facilities to be heard by the council, even if the potential location is not 1,000 feet from sensitive uses.
The ordinance will return to council on Oct. 2 for a second reading and final vote, just days before the city’s moratorium on any new homeless-serving facilities expires.