WARRENTON — The Planning Commission has unanimously recommended approval of a conditional use permit for a 70-bed dormitory near Hammond for Pacific Seafood workers.
The seafood processor has been planning a dormitory in 6,000 square feet of vacant space next to a machine shop it operates along state Highway 104. The company argued the dorms are necessary to avoid bussing in so many seasonal employees from afar amid a tight housing market.
The project has rankled neighbors to the south and to the east, who argue the space is inadequate to house so many workers and worry about the impact the project will have on their neighborhood and property values.
Commissioners also didn’t like the location, but argued during deliberation on Thursday that there was no arguing against its merits or that it doesn’t meet the city’s codes.
Kevin Cronin, the city’s community development director, strongly recommended approval of the project, arguing the company has gone above and beyond to meet the city’s requirements. He included a condition of approval that the company start with 70 beds as a first-year trial run. The company had wanted 90 beds.
Paul Mitchell, the chairman of the Planning Commission, said that while he doesn’t agree with the location, Pacific Seafood is trying to be transparent and do something worthwhile to house employees.
“I have concerns about whether or not the living conditions” are adequate, Mitchell said. “But that really isn’t for us to make a decision on. It fits the criteria of what has been approved.”
Just east of the project is 17th Place, a cul-de-sac rezoned from industrial to residential about 15 years ago. Neighbors there and to the south asked that Pacific Seafood lower a required landscaping buffer to protect their views of the Columbia River. They asked that the company use a gate behind the dorms and build a walkway over a ditch for direct access to the Warrenton Waterfront Trail and discourage workers from using an access from 17th Place.
Michael Robinson, an attorney for Pacific Seafood, said the company is willing to come back for a variance to lower the landscaping buffer. The company could consider direct access to the waterfront trail, but blocking access on a public street like 17th Place is not permissible, he said.
“There’s really no evidence that this is going to be a problem for folks,” Robinson said. “If you think about it, this is a place for folks to eat and sleep after they work, and there’s simply no radical reason to expect that folks are going to to anything other than that.”
Randy Stemper, a developer building the 37-unit Skipanon View Apartments near Pacific Seafood’s Warrenton plant, said he reached out to the company about leasing the units but had been rebuffed. Bornstein Seafoods recently purchased a nearby apartment complex, marketing vacant units to employees.
Neighbors wondered why Pacific Seafood had not taken Stemper up on the offer for housing within walking distance of its plant and pointed to the dorms as an example of the company being cheap. Ann Marie Gramson, a neighbor, specifically called out Frank Dulcich, the president and CEO of Pacific Seafood.
“He wants to go the ‘el cheapo’ route, the cheapest he can,” she said. “So this is what we’re going to end up with. You’re going to have men who are living in substandard housing.”