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New Clackamas County zoning rules would allow transitional shelters for homeless in industrial zones

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - Clackamas County Planning Commission hears from Vahid Brown, housing policy coordinator, at a study session Monday night, May 22, on proposed zoning changes to allow transitional shelters (for homeless) in light and general industrial zones.Clackamas County planning commissioners will consider a range of zoning choices for "transitional shelters" for people without permanent housing.

They hashed over the possibilities for more than two hours at a study session Monday night. No public comments were offered, but a public hearing is scheduled July 10.

One proposal before the commission would change the county's zoning and development ordinance to allow such shelters in light and general industrial zones. Those zones are found along Highway 212 in Clackamas, Highway 224 near Milwaukie, Johnson City, and McLoughlin Boulevard/Highway 99E south of Milwaukie.

They would not be allowed in industrial parks.

Individual shelters would be limited to 200 square feet, and could not be vehicles, recreational trailers or manufactured homes. Bathrooms and kitchens would be centralized — not in individual shelters — and storage would be enclosed. The area would have to be fenced.

County commissioners initiated the request for a change.

The change would allow a planned shelter for homeless veterans on a county development agency parcel zoned for general industrial use.

The current county budget sets aside $300,000 for the project, which commissioners hope to have set up before winter. Proposals are due May 31, and commissioners are scheduled to consider them June 20.

Together with other steps, the shelter is aimed at eliminating homelessness among veterans, who numbered 85 in the county's 2017 count.

Commission comments

Planning Commissioner Mark Fitz, himself a veteran, said between post-traumatic stress disorders and loss of support services, "it's a little more complicated (for veterans) than simple homelessness."

Fitz said that governments, nonprofit agencies and community organizations should be encouraged to set up similar projects where they are appropriate and with adequate safeguards.

"But more rules do not make it better, they actually make it worse," he said.

Planning Commissioner Brian Pasko said if the county wants to proceed with a project for veterans, zoning approval should be limited, perhaps through a conditional-use permit with a set time limit.

"Homelessness will be with us for a long time," he said.

"But the issues will change, the potential for different locations will change, and we are setting up a stage where this (use) will be at this location for a very, very long time."

Conditional-use permits are generally not time-limited.

Planning Commission Chairman John Drentlaw said he was concerned that allowing such uses on industrial land would shrink the amount available for its intended purposes.

Planning Commissioner Michael Wilson said, "You are setting yourself up for a slum."

Planning Commissioner Gail Holmes said there is a practical limit to where such shelters can be placed.

"They need to be close to where transportation is, so we just can't stick them in the middle of the county," she said.

New ground

Planning Director Mike McCallister said the county has little experience to rely on in drafting the changes. He likened the process to what the county did to regulate the growing, processing and sale of marijuana after Oregon voters legalized it for recreational use in 2014.

But he said the best model is Opportunity Village, which houses about 30 people in Eugene, and which has been visited by county officials. Its sponsor has two other similar projects in Lane County.

McCallister is part of a group working on ways to alleviate the problem.

"It requires a complex fabric of people interested in making it happen," he said.

Clackamas County's recent point-in-time homeless count, conducted on Jan. 23, resulted in a total of 2,293 — up 4 percent from the previous count in 2015, and 11 percent from 2013.

According to a federal definition, housing is generally not considered affordable if it consumes more than 30 percent of household income.

Where they come from

Vahid Brown, the county's housing policy coordinator, said the median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the county — median means half are above and half below the mark — is $1,450.

A survey is underway, he said, with the Clackamas Service Center and Father's Heart Street Ministry in Oregon City to determine where people without homes in Clackamas County had lived beforehand.

A similar survey was conducted of people who were swept out of the Springwater Corridor Trail last year. The trail is in Portland but close to Clackamas County.

"So far, the data from Springwater Corridor suggests that people who are houseless in Clackamas County had housing in Clackamas County," Brown told the planning commission.

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