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‘I don’t think it’s ready’: Proposed Spokane homeless shelter hits snag after zoning change fails to move forward

Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposal to place a homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent Ave. hit a snag Monday when the Spokane City Council voted down a zoning change.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposal to place a homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent Ave. hit a snag Monday when the Spokane City Council voted down a zoning change. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

A proposal to temporarily change the city of Spokane’s zoning laws to allow indoor emergency shelters in heavy industrial zones failed to pass the Spokane City Council on Monday.

The vote represents a setback for Mayor Nadine Woodward’s proposal to locate a new homeless shelter at 4320 E. Trent Ave. in east Spokane. Details of how the shelter would work in the more than 33,000-square-foot warehouse are unclear; the city has not yet secured a lease with property owner and local developer Larry Stone for the building, while a provider has not yet been selected.

Councilwomen Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton cited the lack of such details in their decision to vote against the zoning change.

That was enough for the measure to fail with a 4-2 vote. Emergency ordinances, as the zoning change was classified, need five votes to pass. Councilman Zack Zappone was absent from Monday’s meeting.

Wilkerson said she would prefer to see the measure return “as a package deal,” along with a resolution that would select a provider as well as the one approving the lease.

“It’s not a blank check, but it kind of feels like a blank check because we don’t have any numbers to insert, and so then what would that look like for sustainability?” she said.

Stratton said she was “very disappointed” to find that a lot of neighboring businesses felt they weren’t included in the process of identifying the site.

“I don’t think we’re ready for it. I’m not ready for it,” she said of the zoning change. “I think we need more discussion and I really think we need to step back and start involving the businesses in those commercial industrial areas to weigh in and be a part of the discussion.”

Monday’s vote doesn’t mean the shelter is dead.

For City Administrator Johnnie Perkins and the rest of Woodward’s administration, they will have to go back to the drawing board.

Several past attempts to locate a temporary shelter received strong enough pushback from neighbors in those areas for the city to abandon those efforts.

Since last December, city officials have reached out to a half-dozen real estate agents, touched base with nearby communities like Airway Heights and exhausted a list of 90 to 100 properties before the city settled on this site, Perkins said.

Perkins said the delay in communicating with the business community was due to the building being under escrow for a period; Stone completed the purchase of the East Trent Avenue property in March. Several business owners and managers previously said they met with Perkins earlier this month to discuss the concept.

Packaging the zoning change with a vote on a provider should not cause any issues, Perkins said. He added the council will be approached about a recommended provider and the cost to the city next Monday for consideration.

Should this site ultimately fail, however, Perkins said he is unaware of another location in the city that could possibly work.

“There is no other site,” he said Monday. “I’m just going to be really clear and frank with you all: There is no other site. There just isn’t. … And if we have to start over, it’s going to be another six months. Winter will be here again before we have a shelter.”

The city received three responses to a request for proposals from organizations pitching their ideas to run the proposed shelter. The city has not yet publicly disclosed who those applicants are, citing an ongoing review by a subcommittee of Spokane’s Continuum of Care Board.

The three proposals were submitted by the Salvation Army, the Guardians Foundation and Jewels Helping Hands, The Spokesman-Review has confirmed.

A subcommittee of the Continuum of Care Board ranked the proposals. Continuum of Care Board Chair Ben Stuckart said Monday a majority of the board “was not comfortable” with recommending any of the proposals “because people didn’t feel like they had enough answers to questions they had.”

The board will have a special meeting Wednesday, Stuckart said, to decide on some form of recommendation to give to the city.

Daniel Klemme, a member of the Continuum of Care Board, said having toured the targeted facility, the warehouse didn’t feel like “home.”

He said he’s also worried the temporary nature of the zoning change – which, if approved, would stay in place for at least six months – would give any providers undue stress about the site’s future.

“I don’t think it’s ready. I really don’t,” Klemme said. “I didn’t see any vision. I didn’t even see a drawing on a napkin. … I think you guys need to talk to more people with lived experience about whether they want to go there.”

Klemme was among those who spoke Monday night asking the City Council to vote against the temporary zoning measure.

Another in opposition was Kevin Brockbank, president of Spokane Community College. The college is less than a half-mile away from the proposed site.

Despite the college’s proximity to the warehouse, Brockbank said nobody at SCC has been consulted about the project. He said he was “concerned, disappointed and, frankly, frustrated” to find out about the proposal through the local media and not the city itself.

As a result, Brockbank said he does not believe the college’s concerns for its students and community have been considered.

“Our college is the largest neighbor with the largest footprint,” he said. “We are asking you that before considerations of this project move forward any further, we would expect a truly collaborative process that includes Spokane Community College and includes a comprehensive assessment of the impact on the neighborhood, the college and the adults and youths we serve.”

Perkins said his office is arranging a meeting with Community Colleges of Spokane Chancellor Christine Johnson.

“Are we a little behind the curve on that? Absolutely,” he said. “And I’m going to own that right now.”

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