Downtown merchants and neighbors of the Astoria Warming Center will meet with the center’s board this month on a potential good-neighbor agreement.
The Astoria Planning Commission has delayed voting on a one-year conditional use permit for the warming center at First United Methodist Church until the organization’s board has met with stakeholders. The discussion could produce an agreement that would outline how the warming center plans to address concerns raised by the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association and neighbors who live near the Franklin Avenue church.
Anne Odom, a mediator who works for the Astoria Library, will guide the Aug. 30 meeting. The meeting is open to the public, but Community Development Director Kevin Cronin said it is intended as a time for the stakeholders to have a discussion, voice their views and come up with an agreement they can “not only live with, but abide with.”
It is not a time, he said, for people to review the permit application pending with the Planning Commission or discuss their broader views on homelessness.
This is an unusual meeting for the Community Development Department, Cronin said, and outside the typical land use process. It was something City Manager Brett Estes suggested as a way to get a good-neighbor agreement in place that could inform the Planning Commission’s decision without giving the right to veto the warming center’s application to any one stakeholder.
The Community Development Department has not defined what it means by neighbor. Cronin says it applies to anyone who lives in the nearby area who feels impacted, either positively or negatively, by the warming center.
Nearly everyone who has testified about the application agrees the warming center’s services are needed. Some say the First United Methodist Church is the ideal location, given its proximity to downtown. Others, however, including some neighbors, say the warming center and the people it attracts makes the neighborhood feel unsafe and reduces the quality of life.
Odom, as mediator, will be a neutral party at the meeting.
“With conflict, in general, if people are willing to sit down and talk about it, usually something constructive comes from it. There’s no guarantee what,” she said. “If folks are willing to listen to each other, at least they come out of it with a better understanding of where the other side is coming from and what their concerns are.”
Advocates for the warming center and members of the downtown association have said they are in favor of going through this process.
Warming center board members added that many of the concerns voiced at recent public meetings reflect issues with how the center operated in past years. In the application, they outlined several changes they plan make this year that would address many of these concerns.
The warming center is a low-barrier center that operates during the winter months, allowing the homeless to sleep there during cold nights and feeding them an evening meal. It operates out of the church’s basement.
The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Aug. 30 at City Hall. The Planning Commission meets Sept. 6 to make a decision on the permit application.