FEMA: Safe Rest Village violates Sears Armory restrictions
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has determined the Safe Rest Village opening at the former Sears Armory in Southwest Portland is inconsistent with the deed restrictions the city of Portland accepted when it acquired the property.
City officials say they are working to change the allowed use of the portion of the parking lot being used for the managed homeless camp. The homeless people who have already moved in will be allowed to stay until the issue is resolved.
The deed is administered by the US General Services Administration. Representatives met with Portland officials on June 13 and presented options for resolving the issue. The city chose to "pursue the Public Benefit Conveyance (PBC) program of use change for the portion of the Property utilized for the Safe Rest Village," according to a June 27 letter to GSA from Portland Chief Administrative Officer Michael Jordan.
"We also understand that upon receipt of this information the GSA will work with City staff and other Federal agency personnel, as needed, on a plan with milestones to cure the non compliance as determined by FEMA for the portion of the Property utilized for the Safe Rest Village," the letter said.
The FEMA decision was first publicly revealed in a June 29 email from the GSA to Patrick Cashman, one of many opponents in the neighborhood.
"The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has determined that the city of Portland's proposed plan to utilize a portion of the Property for a Safe Rest Village Site is inconsistent with the requirement of 'emergency management response purpose' as required by 41 C.F.R. Part § 102-75.750, et seq.," Senior Realty Specialist Chelsey Battaglia said in the email that was shared with the Portland Tribune.
"GSA is currently working with the city of Portland to cure the non-compliance," Battaglia said.
In response to a request for comment, Office of Management and Finance Public Information Officer Carrie Belding told the Tribune, "The city of Portland recently learned that FEMA does not recognize the Safe Rest Village as an emergency use, as required under our deed restriction for the former SFC Jerome F. Sears Army Reserve Center. The city has a declared Housing Emergency and has moved forward with the development of the Safe Rest Village at this site in good faith to address this emergency."
Portland Commissioner Dan Ryan is working to establish six Safe Rest Villages in different parts of town. He proposed using the Sears Armory site in November 2021. His office did not immediately confirm or dispute the accuracy of the email, or provide any additional information.
The Portland Tribune reported that FEMA's approval was an issue shortly after the site was proposed. Ryan's office previously indicated it didn't foresee any issues with FEMA and was moving ahead with plans.
The U.S. Department of Defense donated the surplus property to the city of Portland in 2012. The deed requires that it be used "primarily for the purpose of providing emergency management services."
Officials with the federal General Services Administration and city of Portland told the Portland Tribune that FEMA was reviewing the proposal to determine whether it complies with the deed restriction at the time. Ryan argued that housing the homeless is emergency management because the City Council has declared a housing emergency.
"GSA monitors the compliance by state or local public agencies regarding deed restrictions on properties conveyed by the U.S. government for emergency management purposes, and if necessary, seeks to remedy any issues of non-compliance," U.S. General Services Administration Branch Chief Monica Pech wrote in a Jan. 4 email. "However, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the agency responsible for determining whether or not the city of Portland's proposed use is in accordance with emergency management use purposes as described in the 2012 Quitclaim Deed. FEMA is currently reviewing the city of Portland's proposed plan in order to determine if the plan is in accordance with emergency management purposes."
Heather Hafer, public information officer for the Portland Office of Finance and Management, said the city was aware of the FEMA review, but that no schedule has been announced for it to be completed.
The facility is officially called the Sgt. Jerome F. Sears United States Army Reserve Center and is at 2730 S.W. Multnomah Blvd. The Multnomah Neighborhood Association has requested a Type III Conditional Use Land Use Review of the proposed camp because the property is zoned for general employment. Hafer said such a review is not required because the proposed use is temporary.
"The Safe Rest Village use of the Sears Armory parking lot is a temporary use, and as such is under the temporary activities chapter of city code. The Bureau of Development Services has confirmed that, given this will be a temporary use, it does not need conditional-use review, a public hearing or public notice, related to land use regulations," Hafer told the Tribune.
The deed restrictions describe emergency management as including, but not limited to: "emergency operations planning and support; risk assessment and mitigation; public outreach, training and education; emergency preparedness and response; decision making and policy planning; first responders training and exercises; logistics management; and recovery and rebuilding."
City officials originally said they would use the property as a heavy equipment staging area. In January 2011, then-Mayor Sam Adams told neighbors that basing such equipment there would help the west side of Portland recover faster from a natural or man-made disaster, especially if bridges are compromised.
Then and now, all of the city's heavy equipment is stored on the east side of the Willamette River.
But that transfer never happened. No significant changes have been made at the building or adjacent parking lot since the first announcement. Since then, the Portland Police Bureau and Portland Fire & Rescue have held occasional training exercises there. The Portland Water Bureau has stored some trucks there and the Portland Bureau of Transportation is using a portion of the parking lot as a staging area for the Southwest Capitol Highway Improvement Project, which includes some seismic improvements to the road that runs through Multnomah Village.
The property was used as an indoor temporary homeless shelter between November 2015 and February 2016. Before it opened, then-Mayor Charlie Hales promised neighbors it would only be used overnight for six months.
A previous Pamplin Media Group story on the issue can be found here.
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