Assistance from the Council for Nickelsville?

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Last week in my Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture (HHSHC) committee we discussed some options to help Nickelsville relocate from their current location.

Why are options so necessary now?

1. Nickelsville residents have been camping outside on City-owned property on West Marginal Way for two years now.   Highland Park residents have an increasing number of concerns.

2.  Food Lifeline is seeking to acquire the property for their operations.  Food Lifeline has property conveyance agreements with both Washington State and the adjoining private property owner.  Both of these agreements are contingent upon the City selling the parcel it owns.

3.  An adjacent property owner is preparing a lawsuit, citing decreased land value.

4.  Questions have been raised recently about Nickelsville’s ability to govern itself and protect the health and safety of its residents.

The current situation is not sustainable.  For the City to address the health and safety of current residents, address the concerns of neighbors, and support the Food Lifeline project we must work together to find a way to facilitate the relocation of the residents of the Nickelsville encampment.  Here are the options discussed in HHSHC last week:

OPTION 1 – Pass C.B. 117791; do not pass 117792 — Facilitate Nickelsville move/Food Lifeline property acquisition.

The proposed C.B. 117791 creates a regulatory framework for the legal permitting of transitional one-year encampments in order to guide the operation of safe and healthy transitional encampments that are not hosted by a religious entity.  Encampments hosted by religious entities do not require a permit.  This  action would implement the Comprehensive Plan goal passed by the Council last year to “Guide the operation of safe and healthy transitional encampments to allow tempo­rary shelter for those who are homeless.” 

This option will also include new funding to assist those Nickelsville residents who want an alternative to living in outdoor encampments. The Mayor intends to transmit a supplemental budget request to Council to provide additional housing options and services.

Encampments can be permitted already under an existing temporary use permit process.  I am not seeking change the existing temporary use permit process, only to offer another new permitting option.  In many ways, my proposed C.B. 117791 is similar to the existing temporary use permit process with 4 significant areas of difference:

  1. Length of stay: A permit could be granted for a year, not 6 months as is currently allowed under the existing temporary permit process.
  2. Location limitations: Encampments with these one year permits would be restricted to land in Industrial zones, downtown zones, except for Downtown zones defined as residential, Seattle Mixed (SM) zones, Commercial 2 (C2), Commercial 1 (C1), Neighborhood Commercial 3 (NC3) and Neighborhood Commercial 2 (NC2) zones.   The current temporary use permit process allows for 6 month encampments in all zones.
  3. Operations: Under this legislation, a written encampment operations plan is required between property owner and encampment operator.  A code of conduct and health and specific safety standards will be required of the permit holder. The existing temporary use permit process does not make these requirements.
  4. Review Process:  The current temporary use permit is a “Type II” Master Use Permit review, with appeal opportunities, while the proposed legislation would establish the transitional encampment interim use as a “Type I” process that is non-appealable.  Outreach requirements of the permit holder to the surrounding area would be established by DPD Director’s Rule upon passage of this bill.

 Other requirements of the proposed legislation are as follows:

  • The permit holder must be the City or a private party with demonstrated experience managing shelters, low-income housing, or homeless encampments.                                      
  • Maximum number of occupants is 100.
  • The minimum lot size is 5,000 square feet or larger and minimum of 100 square feet per encampment occupant.
  • Encampment site lot line must be 25 feet from residentially-zoned lot or, less than 25 feet if encampment is at least 25 feet from residentially-zoned lot and screened

OPTION 2 – Pass CB 117792; do not pass 117791 – Explore use of current site for an on-going temporary encampment under existing temporary use permit/deny Food Lifeline property acquisition request.

This option would authorize the City to spend $150K to conduct an environmental assessment of the current Nickelsville site in order to inform decision-makers as to the site’s viability to house a City- sanctioned temporary homeless encampment and transitional services.  Under this option HSD would establish a relationship with a non-profit provider who can facilitate services on the site by contracting with a non-profit partner to oversee this encampment.  Council support of this option would mean that Food Lifeline would have to identify a new location for its expanded operations.

There were people at this meeting opposing option 1 – arguing that the Council would be “redlining the city,” by passing legislation that only allows these new special 1 year permits without potential for appeal in certain zones of the city.  This position ignores the fact that a. the existing temporary use permit process and b. the existing Religious Encampment Ordinance is available for use in every zone of the City, and will be continued to be available if CB 117791 passes .

A 3rd option was proposed in public comment, by individuals testifying on behalf of Nickelsville residents.   The option was to not pass either CB 117792; or CB 117791, but to instead facilitate Nickelsville move/Food Lifeline property acquisition under Seattle’s existing Religious Encampment Ordinance.  Again, under Seattle’s existing Religious Encampment Ordinance, no permit is required and Nickelsville would instead form a partnership with two different religious institutions, each of whom would rent 2 properties suitable for a Nickelsville Community of up to 100 participants, for a two year stay under Seattle’s existing Religious Encampment Ordinance.  Nickelsville would then sign a management agreement with the religious institution and property owner as well as a non-profit if necessary.

Before my next HHSHC Committee meeting, June 12, 2pm we will seek more info from Nickelsville and the other agencies proposing this option 3.  At this June 12, HHSHC committee meeting there will be no voting, but we will have a decision agenda that includes these 3 options and detail on what actions are necessary for each of the options as well as the likely outcomes and timeline for each option.  In order to fully develop Option 3, we need a full understanding of what the proposal from Nickelsville is – including expectations of City assistance and the timeline.