Commissioners split 3-2 on zoning-code change; 30-unit village will require specific approvals from agency and hearings officer

Clackamas County commissioners have cleared the way for a temporary shelter in the Clackamas Industrial Area for veterans without permanent housing.

The shelter itself, which is envisioned at 30 units at the south end of SE 115th Avenue, will require a separate conditional-use permit approved by a county hearings officer.

But the commissioners, on a 3-2 vote Wednesday (Aug. 2), approved a change in the county zoning and development ordinance to allow transitional shelters in light and general industrial zones. However, the board chose to limit such shelters to industrial sites owned by the county.

The site proposed for the veterans' shelter — for which the county budget has set aside $300,000 — is owned by the Clackamas County Development Agency.

"It's not like this site has been a huge draw," said Board Chairman Jim Bernard, who is in his ninth year on the board.

Even given the economic downturn during his early years on the board, he said, "This site has been for sale for a long time with little or no interest."

In addition to Bernard, Commissioners Ken Humberston and Paul Savas voted yes. Commissioners Sonya Fischer and Martha Schrader voted no.

The board majority accepted other recommendations by the planning commission, which endorsed the zoning-code change in an 8-0 vote July 24.

The change would require county approval of potential overseers of such shelters — specifically by the health, human services and housing agency — and to set an automatic expiration date of two years or approvals of three shelters. Shelters in existence then could remain in operation, but approvals would lapse if they remained empty for one year.

Among other requirements: Prefabricated or stick-built structures, but no tents or yurts; common kitchen and restroom facilities; fencing, and no outdoor storage.

County officials have selected Catholic Charities as the agency to negotiate an agreement to oversee the veterans' shelter, which will be modeled on Opportunity Village in Eugene. They hope to have 15 units, each at 200 square feet or less, up by this winter.

The last-minute change further restricts where such shelters can go. In addition to Highway 212 in Clackamas, light and general industrial zones are along Highway 224 near Milwaukie, Johnson City; and McLoughlin Boulevard/Highway 99E south of Milwaukie.

Strong views

The commissioners heard from 14 people during the two-hour proceeding.

The change was opposed by owners of nearby businesses and representatives of industrial real estate. They declined to oppose the specific proposal for a veterans' shelter, but they said it should go somewhere else.

"I do not know what the right solution is. I don't pretend to," said Mark Wright, founder of Health Wright Products on nearby SE Cappi Road. "I do tend to sympathize with your plight, because it is an issue we need to resolve, especially for our veterans."

But Wright — whose business has been there for more than two decades — said an industrial area is not suitable for such a shelter, either for veterans there temporarily or for employees of nearby businesses.

Kelly Ross of Western Advocates Inc. of Portland spoke for three opposing organizations.

"Adoption of this ordinance will send up a huge red flag to any potential investors or companies thinking of coming into Clackamas County … that there is a possibility of a transitional shelter community being located next to them," said Ross, a one-time Curry County commissioner and a former lobbyist for the Portland Metropolitan Home Builders Association.

But veterans' advocates said that if anything, the change does not go far enough to deal with the broader issue.

"This particular set of rules is very limited," said Bryon Boyce of Oregon City, who spoke for the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good.

Gary McAdams is president of the Portland chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America and also is involved in the Portland metro chapter of the American Military Veterans Outreach Organization. Both are based in Clackamas.

"The freedom of the people who are behind me and balking about that use or this use would not have that use if it were not for the veterans that have been around since 1973," McAdams said.

A split board

Although Bernard was among the commissioners who voted to include $300,000 for the shelter in the 2016-17 county budget — the money has been carried over into the current budget — he said, "It is sad that we have to do this."

But he also said he has changed his mind, based on the positive experience of the Kenton's Women Village in a gentrifying working-class neighborhood in North Portland. (Clackamas County's housing policy coordinator was a founder of the group that crafted the proposal for it.)

"No one would come up here and say they do not support the intent" of the veterans' shelter," Bernard said.

Humberston, a Marine veteran, said the shelter is an initial response to a broader problem. In the county's 2017 point-in-time count of people without stable housing, there were 85 veterans.

"It's a first step to getting people off the street and into some kind of shelter, where they can get some kind of help and move toward the next step of permanent housing," he said.

Savas, who took part in the 2015 and 2017 homeless counts, said he met Monday with several business and real estate representatives who urged consideration of shelters in commercial or residential zones.

"For every zone you choose, your can hear the very same arguments that they will be a deterrent, a devaluation or a lack of investment in those areas … and those arguments are true in almost every zone," Savas said.

"Well, where are the homeless today? They are in all those zones, every one of them. This is a means toward solving those issues."

Fischer said she wanted to await specific requirements the county housing agency would impose on the operators of such shelters.

Schrader initiated the idea of a veterans' shelter. But she ended up voting against the zoning-code change to make it possible. She said she wanted more time for business and real estate interests to reach a consensus.

She said the shelter is modeled on Eugene's Opportunity Village, which has 30 units, each ranging from 60 to 80 square feet with a common kitchen and rest rooms. The organization has spawned two smaller projects in Lane County.

Schrader said veterans were chosen as the first to receive help "because we believe what they did for us is so important."

"It could be a huge success. It could be just a crazy failure. I don't know," she said. "All I know is that at this point … anything is going to be better than (sleeping) under the bridge."

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Specifies that officials hope for 15 units to be up by this winter. Adds details about code requirements for shelters.

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