Discussions on a good-neighbor agreement between the Astoria Warming Center, downtown merchants and nearby residents will continue tonight as the center works to clarify policies and address enduring concerns raised at a community meeting Wednesday night.
Tonight’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at City Hall. It is open to the public, but is intended primarily as a time for the warming center and its neighbors to work together to craft an agreement that will guide the center’s operations this year and inform the Planning Commission’s decision next week on whether to approve a one-year conditional use permit.
Mediator Anne Odom, who also works for Astoria Library, helped guide a discussion of the center’s draft agreement Wednesday and will be present again tonight.
“I think we’re very close to what it needs to be,” said Dulcye Taylor, president of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association, about the draft agreement.
She expects many of the issues raised Wednesday night could be covered in a second, more detailed draft.
While few who testified at a Planning Commission hearing in July were against the existence of a warming center, some neighbors and business owners are concerned about its location in a residential area. The warming center board sought to address these concerns in a draft good-neighbor agreement provided Wednesday night.
The volunteer-run, low-barrier center operates out of the basement of the First United Methodist Church on the corner of 11th Street and Franklin Avenue and provides a meal and beds for up to 30 homeless people a night during severe winter weather.
Dan Parkison, the president of the warming center’s board, said the center outlined nine major changes to its operation this coming winter in application materials submitted to the Planning Commission. After discussions with neighbors and the downtown association, that number increased to 15 in the draft good-neighbor agreement. These changes include the addition of regular litter patrols, enforcement of a no-camping policy in the church’s parking lot after a bed and breakfast owner said this had been a major issue last year, and regular neighborhood meetings.
Some requests are impossible for the warming center to address or fall beyond its authority, Parkison said.. The center can only be responsible for what happens on the church’s property during the time the center is operating. Of the estimated 1,000 homeless people living in Clatsop County at any given time, the warming center caps at 30 a night during its 90-day-operation period.
However, “The closer people live to the warming center, the more impacted they are by our operation and the more we have a responsibility to listen to their concerns,” he said after the meeting ended.
The discussion Wednesday also delved into ongoing concerns with how warming center staff will deal with disruptive and dangerous behavior and address trash, noise and security issues. Taylor and downtown association director Sarah Lu Heath wanted to know how and when warming center volunteers and board members decide someone is kicked out of the center for breaking rules or for criminal actions in town, and when that exclusion is permanent.
Sean Fitzpatrick, a member of the Planning Commission and owner of the Illahee Apartments across the street from the First United Methodist Church, is not opposed to the warming center itself, but says the Franklin Avenue neighborhood is not the right location. He continues to have concerns about some of the center’s policies but believes the groups could reach a good-neighbor agreement.
“I think it’s going to take more than just this evening,” he said, “but the input was hopefully helpful for both sides.”