Exterior of Bellevue City Hall. Photo courtesy city of Bellevue

Exterior of Bellevue City Hall. Photo courtesy city of Bellevue

Council moves forward with proposed encampment code amendment

A final decision by the council is set for Dec. 9.

The Bellevue City Council unanimously agreed to move forward at a Sept. 9 study session with a proposed temporary encampment land use code amendment (LUCA) to Chapter 20.30U of the Bellevue Land Use Code (LUC). The chapter currently regulates how temporary encampment sites are run on religious organization properties.

It is anticipated that the implementation of the amendment will have no fiscal impact on the city.

Because of the update, the city will no longer have to refer to city code and a 2006 federal consent decree for encampment administration. Following public hearings scheduled for fall the city council will make a final decision on the amendment at its Dec. 9 meeting.

According to feedback shared at the study session, current encampment hosts found both the consent decree (which aids hosts in interpreting and applying the code’s provisions) and code chapter “outdated.” They also voiced an interest in simplifying the permit process for those who have hosted encampments on their property previously, and a need to have consistency with how tent cities are run in the region.

Neighborhood groups want increased accountability for encampment hosts and operators, and more flexibility when a temporary site’s backers have shown a commitment to a nearby neighborhood.

Chapter 20.30 U has been adjusted since its 2005 passage, which saw some controversy at the outset. That year, the Temple B’nai Torah (TBT) and SHARE/WHEEL nonprofit, who were the first groups to apply for temporary encampment post-Chapter 20.30U, sued Bellevue. While their permit was approved, it was approved on several conditions.

TBT claimed that the LUC chapter and conditions included in the permit violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and freedom of religion protections under the Constitution. Later, the Church Council of Greater Seattle joined the lawsuit.

The consent decree was passed in 2006 to settle the lawsuit. Since the decree’s approval, temporary encampments in Bellevue have worked in tandem with its regulations. Set to expire in January 2020, the decree has been extended twice since its initial adoption.

The current code amendment discussion follows the July 2018 adoption of a LUCA for shelters and homeless services, which added regulations to the code specifying where homeless shelters can be sited.

The city of Bellevue’s website clarifies that the code update doesn’t relate to unlawful public camping regulations in the area. Currently, BCC 10.06.110 disallows public camping in all public easements and city-owned properties, like parks. Chapter 20.30 U additionally does not monitor shelters or those who sleep in or park their vehicles overnight.

Following a period of public engagement between September and November, talks on the amendment will continue at an East Bellevue Community Council (EBCC) Nov. 5 public hearing and a Nov. 18 city council meeting.

For more information about the amendment, go online to the city’s website (https://bit.ly/2kouPCR).

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