PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council has unanimously approved the city’s comprehensive plan update, which includes new provisions for temporary homeless encampments.
The council approved the 2016-2036 plan Monday night after reopening public comment on the issue of temporary encampments.
“That issue really took on a life of its own,” City Manager David Timmons said.
Before this update, the city didn’t have any codes dealing with temporary encampments. Such codes now are required by state law.
The update now says a nonprofit organization can file for a permit to set up a temporary homeless encampment on approved city land or on private land with the approval of the owner.
The regulation doesn’t apply to recreational camping. It applies only to nonprofits running camps for homeless people in the area.
Councilman Robert Gray said the new ordinance is by no means the city’s way of dealing with homelessness.
“I hope we really understand that homelessness is an issue here and a tent encampment is not the answer,” Gray said, adding that he hoped the council could return to the issue to discuss “more stable solutions.”
On the recommendation of City Attorney Steve Gross, the council voted to waive council rules so it could give final approval Monday to the plan that had been in the works since July.
The council had approved the plan on a first reading when it moved to continue on to approval on a second reading — a move that ordinarily would have waited until next Monday’s meeting.
“Since there are no more changes to be made tonight and no prohibition by state laws, the council could vote to waive council rules and approve the plan tonight,” said Gross at the meeting.
The unanimous approval was met by applause from the council and city staff who attended the meeting, many of whom were city planners who had been working on the plan update long before the council considered it.
The comprehensive plan covers everything from population growth to housing plans for the next 20 years and must be updated periodically, according to state law.
Aside from the addition of code for temporary encampments, there were no major changes to the plan, according to Timmons.
“The biggest thing is now the plan is more refined and focused,” Timmons said. “It now allows people to look at the policy framework rather than the specifics of how to implement policy.”
Timmons said the core issues — health, transportation and housing — remained and drew the most public input.
“Really this process reinforced that a lot of our core values haven’t changed,” Timmons said. “The community wants to continue to invest in itself, and lack of housing still needs to be addressed.”
The Planning Commission has been working on the plan since last year. It presented its recommendations to the City Council over the course of roughly three months’ worth of public meetings.
“They really didn’t have much to change,” Timmons said. “That may seem like they weren’t doing their jobs or reading the documents, but you could tell they were because they always came to us with misspellings and grammatical errors.
“It’s reassuring that they took our recommendations, really.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Cydney McFarland can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 55052, or at email@example.com.