With all of the dialogue in the community around homelessness, I wanted to share some facts regarding the City’s selection process for siting a much-needed low-barrier shelter.
Several sites have been looked at, discussed and ultimately rejected as options because they either did not meet our selection criteria (at least an acre to accommodate a 10,000 square foot building, not in planned or existing residential zoning or our downtown commercial center, and in close proximity to our partner – the Lighthouse Mission) or the property owners would not enter into a lease agreement for shelter as a use.
One of the first sites on the list was the Port’s Lignin building, located behind the Opportunity Council’s building at 1111 Cornwall. Although the building was far from turn-key and needed significant improvements (it has no electrical power, domestic or fire suppression water service, sewer, restrooms or insulation), it’s proximity to planned waterfront residential use and adjacency to our downtown business district were ultimately the deal-breakers for that site.
I recently spoke with Chris Phillips, Community Affairs Director at PeaceHealth St. Joseph’s Medical Center regarding the South Campus facility at 809 Chestnut. A low barrier shelter at that location is incompatible with uses that the hospital is considering for the site in the future and will not be located there. (I do want to point out that hospital has been an excellent partner in planning a promising new program that will help address high utilizers of systems – I’ll be writing about that program here on this blog soon).
The Port inquired about site options owned by Parberry’s – including the former Hi-Tech Auto shop right next to the Mission on Holly. That site is too small for an additional shelter use and Parberry’s had indicated that it was interested in leasing that site for a commercial use.
The City’s search team inquired about multiple properties in the Cordata area and were either denied an opportunity to enter into a lease agreement because the owners did not want the shelter use, or the facilities had site-specific issues that made them unsuitable for a shelter location.
600 W. Holly, the site of the former ReStore and Sash and Door is adjacent to residential and within the Old Town sub-area plan from 2008. That sub-area can accommodate about 1,000 units of housing and about 400,000 square feet of commercial space. Putting a low-barrier shelter at 600 W. Holly writes off any future possibility of redeveloping that part of Bellingham.
The City considered for many months a former National Guard facility that the Port owns near the airport. That facility was almost turn-key, but the Federal Aviation Administration rejected our proposal on the basis of having a residential facility within a certain distance of the runway at the airport.
A few days ago, Jason Reid, the owner of Pacific Marine Electric, invited me down to his shop. We walked the boatyard and he showed me the crane and large dolly and forklift that four of the five businesses located at the proposed shelter site at 801 Roeder depend on for marine trades. Jason brought up the possibility of using part of the empty 240,000 square foot tissue warehouse located directly behind his shop for relocation. That building could have access to the water with the installation of a short length of asphalt for the forklift that hauls the boats. We both acknowledged the challenges of reconfiguring the loading bay doors to accommodate their large boats, but that it could be done. If it’s possible to relocate to that part of the tissue warehouse, it would be the equivalent of the businesses at 801 Roeder moving about a block down C Street.
No City leader wants any marine trades to go away. These good-paying jobs comprise 7% of our local employment, support families and pay taxes. Mayor Kelli and Port Executive Director Fix continue to work together to find solutions for siting a shelter.
Thanks for reading!