Yakima city officials agreed not to erect a permanent homeless shelter near the Yakima Greenway on city-owned land adjacent to Camp Hope.
During Tuesday night’s business meeting, the City Council approved 4-3 a settlement that prohibits the shelter and ends a lawsuit filed by the Yakima Greenway.
At issue is a 2.6-acre site the city rezoned to general commercial use with plans to build a permanent homeless shelter. The property is within the Greenway’s overlay zone, which governs the type of projects allowed in the area.
Greenway officials objected to the project, saying it did not meet the required land-use guidelines of the area. In December 2018, Greenway officials sued the city in Yakima County Superior Court in effort to block the project.
The settlement allows temporary and permanent housing to be built on the city-owned land and other services provided that lighting, security and other safety requirements in the agreement are met.
Such housing differs from a shelter in that they typically consist of individual units such as apartments.
The settlement also establishes a licensing agreement between the Greenway and city that prioritizes projects focused on recreation and conservation, which are focal points of the overlay zone.
“We’re very pleased and optimistic about the future partnership we have with the city,” said Greenway Executive Director Kelly Connaughton.
County plans for shelter
The efforts to place a permanent homeless shelter on the site may be moot now that Yakima County is moving ahead with a plan to convert the Pacific Avenue jail into homeless shelter and care center with mental health and substance abuse services.
Commissioners recently approved a countywide 0.1% mental health sales tax to help make it happen.
“I think it’s a very interesting and optimistic option, which makes me feel encouraged that our leadership is looking very hard to see what we have that we’re not using,” Connaughton said.
The jail has not been put to full use since its construction in 2006, but commissioners say the proposed project will change that.
The agreement wasn’t without objections. Mayor Kathy Coffey said the settlement limits the city’s options in the event that the county’s project doesn’t happen as planned.
She voted against the settlement along with council members Brad Hill and Kay Funk.
“I want to keep our options open but that’s here nor there now,” Coffey said Wednesday. “I just felt that the city needed to keep its options open at this time. It’s still just all up in the air.”
Hill said he wanted more time to ask more questions.
“We had very little time between our legal brief about the proposed settlement and the vote,” he said. “As I said, I wasn’t necessarily opposed to it. I would have preferred more time.”
Camp Hope agreement
That wasn’t the only homeless issue the council decided Tuesday night. The council agreed to modify Camp Hope’s agreement to make life a little easier for those staying there.
More than 125 people, including five families, are staying in military tents at the camp.
The temporary camp’s operations agreement was due to expire in June, but the new agreement will allow it to operate until 2029.
That helps if there’s any holdup in the county’s shelter project, said camp director Mike Kay.
“I think this is just kind of a backup plan if something happens,” he said. “It’s certainly our hope that a permanent shelter will be up by that time, but meantime this is what we have and this is what we’ll work with.”
The new agreement also provides more flexibility for temporary camp shutdowns. The camp must shut down for two weeks every six months to maintain its status as a temporary shelter.
Previously, the camp had specific shutdown dates in June and in December. Now the shutdowns will occur anytime in March and September, when the weather isn’t as harsh.
“I think the big thing is it doesn’t make us move during the holidays, which is traumatic for them anyway,” Kay said.