Volunteers at the Astoria Warming Center left City Hall Thursday night with an approved good-neighbor agreement in hand.
The agreement, the second draft of the document that center board members circulated at a community meeting Wednesday night, clarifies some language and addresses concerns and incorporates suggestions voiced by downtown merchants and neighborhood residents.
Though not a formal condition of approval, the agreement was suggested by city staff as a way to get the center and the neighborhood on the same page and address past issues.
The agreement will inform the Astoria Planning Commission’s decision on a one-year conditional use permit that would allow the center to continue operating out of the basement of the First United Methodist Church at the corner of 11th Street and Franklin Avenue during the winter months.
“I think they did a great job of taking all the comments and information we thought needed to be changed, as far as we’re concerned,” said Dulcye Taylor, president of the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association.
Along with other changes, warming center board members rewrote the agreement to include more detailed “guest rules,” a promise of expanded training for staff and volunteers on how to respond to people at the center dealing with mental health issues, and a chore list for users of the center.
Thursday’s meeting, a continuation of discussions around the agreement that began Wednesday night, was a quieter and shorter proceeding with roughly half the attendance.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to make a decision on the conditional use permit at a meeting Wednesday. The commission delayed a decision in August to give the warming center, the neighbors and the downtown association more time to craft a good-neighbor agreement.
At the time, the majority of the commission — David Pearson, Jan Mitchell, Jennifer Cameron-Lattek and Brookley Henri — indicated they were “leaning on the side of approval.” Commissioners Daryl Moore and Kent Easom said they did not oppose the idea of a warming center, but said a residential area is not the right location. They said they would likely vote to deny the application.
Any decision the commission makes could be appealed to the City Council.
Planning Commissioner Sean Fitzpatrick, an owner of the Illahee Apartments located across the street from the church, recused himself from discussions and a public hearing about the warming center’s application. He submitted testimony urging the commission to deny the permit, citing ongoing concerns about impacts to neighbors. Like Moore and Easom, he supported the center’s mission but said it shouldn’t be located in the Franklin Avenue neighborhood. He attended both community meetings to discuss the good-neighbor agreement.
At the end of Thursday’s meeting, he said, “I am more comfortable with this than not having an agreement at all.”
Dan Parkison, the president of the warming center’s board, said he is pleased with the final document.
“We have reached a very detailed understanding and agreement about how we’re going to be operating,” he said.
Warrenton City Commissioner Rick Newton, who attended Thursday’s meeting representing the Warrenton Warming Center, commended the Astoria community for “talking about it and working it out.” The Warrenton center is in the middle of re-examining its own rules and is watching how Astoria balances the need for a warming center with the neighborhood’s concerns and the city’s requirements, he said.
“I am of course stealing your agreement,” he joked.
The volunteer-run Astoria Warming Center operates seasonally, giving homeless people a place to sleep when temperatures dip to dangerous levels during the winter months. The low-barrier center will only be open for 90 days between Nov. 15 and March 15, according to the application submitted to the Planning Commission