After several months of deliberations, the Bellevue City Council approved the ordinance regarding a Land Use Code Amendment (LUCA) for homeless shelters in the city on July 16.
The ordinance was approved in a 4-3 vote, with council members John Stokes, Janice Zahn, Deputy Mayor Lynne Robinson and Mayor John Chelminiak in favor. Council members Jennifer Robertson, Conrad Lee and Jared Nieuwenhuis opposed the ordinance.
To address homelessness in the city, the Bellevue Council took up the task of creating a new LUCA that would allow a permanent homeless shelter to be located in the city. Seasonal shelters have been in the city since 2008, but an increasing desire to protect the homeless population has led the city to focus on this issue.
In 2017, the council put in place interim regulations to permit shelters in zoning districts where hotels and motels were allowed. While the interim regulations were in place, the city worked on the full LUCA details.
The LUCA implements a permit process through which an applicant can request the city to negotiate a development agreement or apply for a conditional use permit (CUP). A Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) Advisory Committee, made up of 19 community members including people who live within one mile of the proposed site, would then research and analyze the proposal and work with the shelter operator.
The GNA Advisory Committee has three main tasks, council member Zahn explained, to ensure the operator has the context they are familiar with, give feedback on the design and development of the structure, and develop a longer-term Good Neighbor Agreement.
In discussion over the main motion regarding the approval of the LUCA, council members Zahn, Stokes and Robinson supported the ordinance. Robinson said that creating a space for the homeless population to take shelter has been a priority for the city for more than a decade, citing the deaths caused by exposure to the cold over the past decade. In 2008, Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond entered into an agreement to house men, women and children, Robinson said, and since that time Kirkland has a permanent women’s shelter and Redmond has a shelter for young adults and teenagers. She felt it was time for Bellevue to join those cities in offering shelter services.
Council member Nieuwenhuis said he hopes what comes from this ordinance is successful, but was ultimately opposed it in its current form. He cited the lack of requirements for buffers or separation, allowing a homeless shelter to possibly be cited close to single-family housing or schools.
“Two of the most important tools that we talked about briefly again tonight and that’s to ensure a transparent process with the CUP and to mitigate the impacts to our neighborhood with a very modest buffer,” he said. “… Under the LUCA shelters, those dealing with mental health issues or those entering under the influence of drugs or alcohol, those can be placed right near sensitive populations. To me there seems like some common sense modest amendments that we just were not able to get to.”
Council member Lee was also concerned with transparency and getting public involvement, and stated he couldn’t support the ordinance because of those concerns.
Much like Nieuwenhuis, Robertson shared many of the same concerns, especially over the inclusion of a development agreement, which she said would allow the city to make special deals with a preferred developer and is not subject to appearance of fairness standards or full transparency like a CUP is.
“Allowing the shelter to be built literally next door to residential neighborhoods or schools when we are fully aware there is a 1,300-foot increased criminal activity impact halo around low-barrier shelters, and we know this will keep some people in need of services from being able to both comply with the terms of their community supervision and obtain those services, to me is a fatal flaw,” Robertson said.
Zahn was supportive of the ordinance stating that many elements added to the LUCA do fulfill the element of transparency and public outreach.
“We’ve added the pre-application meeting, we’ve added pre-decision public hearings, we’ve added written criteria, we’ve added the appeal opportunity, we’ve added added a GNA,” Zahn said. “Those are all things that are associated with outreach and transparency, and those things absolutely matter.”
Mayor Chelminiak stated he was disappointed in the outcome that night, but respected the decision of the council members that chose to oppose the ordinance. He also stated that he would also like to vote against the ordinance as well, but voted to approve it to make progress in the LUCA process.