When Dan Parkison, president of the Astoria Warming Center board, realized the Astoria Planning Commission had just approved the center’s permit in a 4-2 vote Wednesday night, his shoulders dipped forward slightly and he took a short, visible breath of relief.
Commissioner Jan Mitchell, who is traveling overseas, and Commissioner Jennifer Cameron-Lattek, who is in Canada, used a video chat service to participate in the meeting and voted with Commissioner Brookley Henri and Commission President Dave Pearson to approve the one-year conditional use permit.
They said the key to their approval was a good-neighbor agreement hammered out last week between the warming center board, people who live in the neighborhood near the First United Methodist Church on Franklin Avenue and 11th Street where the center operates each winter and the Astoria Downtown Historic District Association.
“This is difficult work, creating a document like this, and I was very pleased to see the results of this,” Pearson said. He supported approval of the center’s permit “100 percent.”
The agreement — now referred to as a good-neighbor commitment — details how the center’s board, staff and volunteers plan to address neighborhood concerns and issues with how the center operated in the past. It also explains what the center will require of the homeless who come to eat a meal and spend the night at the center when low temperatures or expected rainfall hit established thresholds.
Parkison said he was “very pleased that a majority (of the Planning Commission) saw the need in Astoria and saw that our mission is important to not only the people we serve but to all the citizens of Astoria.” He added that the city deserves credit for the good-neighbor commitment; the document and last week’s meetings overseen by a mediator were first suggested by city staff and City Manager Brett Estes.
“You could just see all the different groups coming together because it really was a collaborative effort of everybody trying to reach an understanding of the other person’s needs and the other person’s rights and what they wanted,” Parkison said. “It would not have happened without the city’s mediation effort. We started off just too far apart.”
Planning Commissioner Sean Fitzpatrick, a vocal opponent of the center’s location though not its mission, did not attend Wednesday night’s meeting. He had recused himself from considering the application in July. As an owner of the Illahee Apartments across the street from First United Methodist Church, he participated in the community meetings last week.
Commissioners Kent Easom and Daryl Moore voted against approving the warming center’s permit, saying they were still concerned about impacts on the neighborhood. Moore explained that since Planning Commission members could not attend the community meetings last week and the city did not record who attended, he has no evidence that the neighbors actually approved of the good-neighbor commitment.
The commitment “didn’t alleviate my concerns that the impacts will be addressed,” he said, but added, “I hope they are and I hope (the warming center) is run great and the neighborhood is fine. I certainly hope that they help people and I appreciate the work that you do, but my role is to protect our governing documents. The documents that I reviewed and researched say that my role in this was to protect the neighborhood from uses that don’t belong in the neighborhood. It’s never been about the people that need help.”
He said he wished the center the best.
The Planning Commission’s decision can be appealed to the City Council by anyone with standing — people who testified or submitted testimony during the public hearing — within the next 15 days. If the matter does go to the City Council, whatever the councilors decide can also be appealed. The warming center is allowed to open beginning Nov. 15, but the appeals process could delay these plans.
Parkison said the board will need to hold off on securing their food donor network, fulfilling landscaping and other requirements outlined in the permit, hiring additional staff and contacting volunteers until the chance for appeals has passed.