Port Angeles City Council to consider religious shelters for homeless

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council will consider on Tuesday planning commission recommendations for allowing religious organizations to build temporary shelters for those experiencing homelessness.

To join the 6 p.m. meeting, visit www.cityofpa.us/Live-Virtual-Meetings or https://cityofpa.webex.com/cityofpa/onstage/g.php?MTID=ef0710238b9647e1944194244849f5010.

To listen only, call 1-844-992-4726 and enter access code 2550 500 8609.

The planning commission on Wednesday reviewed motions from the council and voted to support an option presented to the city on Sept. 20 to waive permit fees for religious organizations and streamline the permit review process by utilizing a safety review checklist.

The commission also approved the recommendation that the city direct staff to formulate a comprehensive ordinance for supportive housing based on solutions implemented in other municipalities.

The topic was first brought to the council by council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin on Sept. 6.

One of the ways in which a religious organization can practice its faith is by providing shelter for the homeless. In those instances, by law, the city cannot place an undue burden on the organization that would prevent them from developing structures to shelter the homeless, except where it could impact, health, safety and sanitation.

“The city recognizes that homelessness is a growing problem and there is a need for shelters, but it also recognizes that there are limits and potential impacts to the greater community if religious organizations are allowed to do this,” City Attorney Bill Bloor said.

City staff presented four options to the city council of what it could do that would allow religious organizations to develop temporary structures to shelter those experiencing homelessness without placing an undue burden on said organizations.

• The first option presented to the council and the option recommended by staff was that the council takes no action on this.

Staff indicated that state RCWs and that city Conditional Use Permits (CUP) already ensure the rights of religious organizations to develop temporary housing for the homeless that protect the overall health, safety and sanitation of the community as well as consider neighborhood impacts.

• Option two, and the option the council chose, was to amend Title 17 ordinance to designate the city CUP as the procedure that best ensures the exercise of religious beliefs by its members and that they are not unduly burdened by the measures required by the city.

The amendment would include a piece of code that would specifically allow for temporary shelters hosted by religious organizations.

Schromen-Wawrin moved to amend the ordinance to read: “A religious organization that intends to host permanent facilities for sheltering the homeless shall first obtain a CUP. Permanent facilities are fixed to the ground and do not require any city permits.”

This would open the door for religious organizations to establish temporary facilities, such as tiny homes, as temporary shelters for the homeless on religious organization properties.

Schromen-Wawrin also moved to direct staff to forward the draft ordinance creating this new section of code to the planning commission for it to discuss and review at its next meeting and then bring recommendations back to the council at a later date.

Council member Mike French moved to recommend to the planning commission a discussion making temporary homeless shelters allowable uses for community centers without conditional use permits.

• The third option, which also was adopted by the council, was to pass a resolution regarding religious organizations hosting homeless shelters.

The resolution would support those organizations and provide policy guidance for city staff in its role of ensuring health safety and sanitation.

Schroment-Wawrin moved to have this resolution passed as written.

• The final option was for the city to adopt an ordinance based on municipal codes from other cities and direct staff to review those codes and come back with recommendations.

The city’s housing coordinator, Holden Fleming, was in favor of this idea.

“I think it’s important to look at this problem ( homelessness) and understand that multiple communities across the state have all addressed this in unique ways that have been tailored specifically to their cities. I think that the city of Port Angeles should do something in line with the last option. It would allow us to tailor an ordinance specific to our needs that enshrines the abilities of religious organizations to perform this important function in our community,” Fleming said.

The motions made by Schromen-Wawrin and French passed in 5-2 votes with Mayor Kate Dexter and Deputy Mayor Brendan Meyer as the dissenting votes.

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at kpark@peninsuladailynews.com.

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