Planning Commission to look at homeless issue

  • Fri May 24th, 2019 3:15pm
  • News

By Scott D. Johnston

For the GH News Group

The Ocean Shores City Council last week continued to wrestle with the question of how the City might go about creating regulations governing shelters and services for a homeless population currently estimated to number more than 100.

In their April 22 meeting, the Council voted 4-3 to approve a 180-day moratorium intended to freeze possible new projects that would involve services to the homeless and require some form of city approval, giving the city time to develop relevant regulations, particularly involving lands uses and building codes.

However, it was pointed out a few days later that the moratorium ordinance was enacted on an emergency basis, which required a “majority plus one” vote, which would be 5-2. At the May 13 meeting, the Council discussed the matter for over an hour and amended the moratorium length to 90 days before voting 4-3 in favor, which meant the measure failed. Eric Noble, Kathryn Sprigg, Lisa Griebel and Jon Martin voted in favor, while Susan Conniry, Bob Peterson and Steve Ensley opposed.

The next day, Mayor Crystal Dingler spent about an hour at the regular Planning Commission meeting, discussing the situation and explaining her view that “this is a land use issue, and that’s the bailiwick that you all have.”

She said, “our zoning is pretty open,” creating “an opportunity for things to end up where we really don’t want them to be.” She noted the City will also have to consider what types of facilities and services it will allow and what requirements it may place on owners, operators and workers.

Dingler told the commission members she would like for them to make recommendations to the City Council on the land use aspects “relatively quickly. You have the best knowledge of the land we have and what we’re using it for now. It would be lovely if the Planning Commission could get it done in two or three months.”

The need for the moratorium came to light, the Mayor said, during the April 4 presentation at the Ocean Shores Convention Center by Cassie Lentz of the Grays Harbor County Department of Public Health and Social Services, which was seeking public input into the county’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. At that meeting, Woodinville resident James Rushing told those present that he owns some commercial property in Ocean Shores and is working with a Seattle-based group to look into the possibility of building a homeless shelter here.

The Mayor said, “I felt this is kind of a wakeup call that people may be wanting to do something and … we don’t have anything in place regarding how do we make sure we protect our city’s interests.”

Rushing spoke during public comment periods at both the April 22 and May 13 meetings. At the latter he threatened to sue the City if it attempts to derail his plans, which he did not spell out.

A public records request revealed that Rushing filed an Ocean Shores business license application on April 22, for “Ocean Shores Improvement Services,” to be located at 599 Ocean Shores Blvd. NW. The application described the nature of the business” as “Local Services” and the description of the business” as “Community Services Resources.” It sought exemption from licensing fees as a non-profit. The business did not turn up in a search of corporate registrations at the Washington Secretary of State’s online registry.

At the May 13 Council meeting, City Attorney Brent Dille said that application had been denied as “incomplete” and noted that no structure exists at that address.

Asked by a reporter for details, Rushing sent a lengthy “Open Letter to the Citizens and City of Ocean Shores.” In it, he explained that, at the urging of his mother, who spent several months in Ocean Shores in 2016 recovering from a serious medical issue, he purchased a half acre commercial property, which is located near the south end of the beachfront hotel strip.

“I’ve spent the last two years working with an architect and engineers to create plans for a multi-use building,” Rushing’s letter claims, with intended ground floor retail, second floor luxury rental units and top floor residential living space.

“We plan to lease most of the retail space but reserve some portion of this floor to provide emergency services for the neediest in the area. Obviously, we want to lease the retail space and plan to target luxury travelers, so from the beginning, the plan was to be modest and make sure that whatever services we provide do not affect the retail business or community. We don’t want groups of people living in plain view, but in an extreme case, for example if there is an elderly person or child living in the dunes, suffering from a medical emergency or dying we’d like to be able to at least provide them shelter.”

He said after he mentioned the plan at the April 4 meeting that “we’re planning to provide some emergency services … I had no idea of the hatred and fear this announcement would elicit.”

Rushing added that he has decided against selling the property and putting the project elsewhere, and will continue to pursue what he called his mother’s “legacy to the family and the community.”