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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Last appeal against Pierce County homeless village dropped. What’s next for opponents?

By Shea Johnson The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

The land-use decision that enabled the Pierce County Village, a planned micro-home community near Spanaway for people experiencing chronic homelessness, is no longer facing an appeal.

Environmental nonprofit, Futurewise, and local advocacy group, Spanaway Concerned Citizens, recently dropped their complaint with the Growth Management Hearings Board that had alleged Pierce County’s shared-housing village ordinance violated state rules on planning and growth.

The Oct. 18 dismissal came after the County Council repealed the zoning ordinance in question and also closed a loophole that could have allowed new applications to be filed under the repealed law during a two-week window, according to two attorneys representing the groups that challenged the ordinance.

While the case did not directly take on the planned 285-unit Pierce County Village, it targeted the underpinning regulation that opened the door for the project. Even so, the village was unaffected by the ordinance’s repeal, county officials have said, since it was vested under the regulations in place at the time that permits were applied for.

With the matter now settled before the quasi-judicial state board, opponents of the Pierce County Village will turn their attention to arguing against the project’s efforts to get permitted, attorney David Bricklin, representing Spanaway Concerned Citizens, told The News Tribune.

“There’s still the matter of the application that was filed before the ordinance was repealed,” Bricklin said, referring to the village. “Putting this project out there is still a bad idea.”

The Tacoma Rescue Mission, which will own and operate the 285-unit village, applied to develop it in May, and that application is still under review.

A county hearing examiner’s decision is pending on whether a conditional-use permit should be issued for the project. That could be scheduled by late December or early January, according to county senior counsel Steve O’Ban. The matter was slated to go before a land-use advisory commission on Wednesday.

Settlement terms

County lawmakers in March approved the shared-housing ordinance in a low-density residential zone off Spanaway Loop Road, setting the stage for Tacoma Rescue Mission to apply to develop the micro-home community there.

The ordinance was challenged to the Growth Management Hearings Board in May, with petitioners contesting that the environmentally sensitive location was inappropriate for shared-housing developments. That same month, following the rescue mission’s application, the Council delayed the ordinance’s effective date to Dec. 1 until after the state board’s expected decision on the challenge.

At least some Council members shared environmental concerns about the ordinance and feared broader repercussions from a GMHB decision. In August and against county Executive Bruce Dammeier’s wishes, county lawmakers officially repealed the zoning law, effective Dec. 15, in part to make the state board challenge moot.

Since the ordinance was planned to go into effect Dec. 1 but wasn’t scheduled to be scrapped until Dec. 15, the timing of the two Council decisions left open a two-week window where applicants could technically seek to develop a project under the repealed zoning regulation. On Oct. 3, that gap was closed when the Council voted to align the dates by moving the repeal to Dec. 1 — a necessary condition to reach last month’s settlement.

Tim Trohimovich, planning and law director for Futurewise, told The News Tribune that the nonprofit was pleased with the resolution. The group believed that the ordinance was flawed, but it won’t contest the Pierce County Village’s permitting because it doesn’t take on individual projects.

“From our perspective, the villages are a good use that the county authorized in a bad location,” Trohimovich said.

The case’s joint dismissal came a little more than a week before a Pierce County Superior Court judge threw out an attempt by a Spanaway Lake advocacy nonprofit to block development of the Pierce County Village on grounds that it had been illegally spot-zoned.

O’Ban, a prominent advocate for the project and a central figure in bringing it together, said in an interview that the county has always committed to following all environmental rules and regulations.

“We think the dismissal of these challenges helps to validate that commitment,” he said.

The project is modeled after a proven concept in Austin, Texas, and expected to connect residents in permanent housing with on-site services. O’Ban pledged that the project would be accountable, restorative and bring forth much-needed affordable housing.

Although the GMHB case was focused on future potential uses in the area and not specifically the village proposal, “because there’s been a lot of confusion about that, it was good to get that resolved and behind everybody who cares about this project,” he said.