An Astoria planning commissioner is advocating for changes to city code that would define emergency homeless shelters and outline criteria for approving or denying such facilities in the future.
At a meeting Tuesday, Commissioner Daryl Moore passed out a code amendment he had drafted, saying he hoped the proposal would generate a discussion among planning commissioners and, ultimately, the City Council “to address the absence of some social services in our development code.”
When the Astoria Warming Center was required to obtain a one-year conditional use permit this year, one of the factors city staff and planning commissioners struggled with was the lack of guidance in city code and zoning. The warming center operates on a temporary basis, opening for the evening only when temperatures and rainfall hit certain thresholds and providing homeless people with a place to sleep and a warm meal.
When the warming center’s conditional use permit was under review, some planning commissioners, including Moore, said the shelter was needed but its location in the middle of a neighborhood above downtown was not the right place.
A code amendment with language that specifically addresses emergency shelters would give the city direction next year when planning commissioners will likely review the warming center’s conditional use permit again.
Homelessness appears to be a growing problem in the city, Moore said, “and I think we need to start dealing with it.”
His proposed amendment would codify commitments the warming center made with the neighborhood to ensure the operation would have less of an impact on residents and businesses. Moore’s amendment outlines time limits, days of operation, safety requirements, parking and an emergency shelter’s responsibilities to neighborhoods, among other requirements.
The other planning commissioners had not had a chance to read through Moore’s proposal Tuesday, but Commissioner Kent Easom said he thought it was an excellent plan. The city needs something “so we’re not just flying by the seat of our pants,” he said.
City Planner Nancy Ferber said she would talk to City Manager Brett Estes and look into setting up a work session to allow planning commissioners to discuss potential code amendments. Any code amendment developed by the Planning Commission must go to the City Council for approval.