Any time a governmental unit proposes building or moving a facility to assist the poor, the proposal is certain to stir controversy. When the city of Vancouver proposed moving the city's center for the homeless to a vacant building formerly used by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, many people voiced their opposition, while others supported the proposal. The recent decision by a neutral hearing examiner to approve the move has now sent the controversy to the city council for final resolution.
Opponents of such projects often make arguments heard elsewhere: The project will lower real estate values in the neighborhood. Overcrowding will result. Criminal activity will increase. These arguments were also made in opposition to moving the homeless center, but they were rejected by the hearing examiner. The hearing examiner relied on Washington state court decisions that have held that community opposition without evidence showing that the property does not meet the criteria for approval cannot alone justify rejection of a local zoning or land use decision. Instead, the examiner relied on testimony given by witnesses who have firsthand knowledge of the plight faced by the homeless in Vancouver.
The final decision will be made by the city council when it considers whether to appropriate $4.3 million to purchase the building. Only a portion of the building will be devoted to the homeless center, but the opposition to the project may persist, even if the council approves the purchase. Another potential outcome is litigation. Opponents of the project may decide to seek judicial review of the decision if the city council votes in favor of the purchase, in which case the controversy will continue.
Anyone who becomes involved in a similar land use controversy may wish to consult an experienced real estate and zoning lawyer. A knowledgeable attorney can provide useful advice on the applicability of the zoning ordinance and other land use regulations and assist in forming arguments to support specific positions.
Source: The Columbian, "Hearing examiner approves relocation of Vancouver day center," Patty Hastings, Jan. 5, 2018