Next step is for mental health provider to seek approval of duplexes to house six people near Beaverton; opponents vow fight.

Washington County commissioners concede that proposed housing for six people outside of Beaverton will make only a small reduction in the needs of those recovering from mental illness.

But they said their vote to transfer a surplus 1.29 acres to Luke-Dorf Inc., a nonprofit mental health provider based in Tigard, is a step in the right direction.

The unanimous vote Tuesday night (July 25) came after the five commissioners heard 25 people on both sides for almost an hour and discussed it for another 30 minutes — although a public hearing is not required for a land transfer.

"Our goal is to allow all points of view to be expressed tonight in a cordial and respectful manner," Board Chairman Andy Duyck said.

The action is not the final official word on the Clover Court project, which will be built at 17025 SW Bany Rd. from a site not needed for county work on SW 170th Avenue.

Luke-Dorf will have to file a land-use application, which requires a public meeting as part of the process. Once the application is deemed complete, a county hearings officer — not the county commissioners — will have 120 days to make a decision. Neighbors within 500 feet will receive public notice of a hearing.

The project consists of three duplexes, each with studio apartments of 400 square feet, which will house a total of six people who will live independently.

If the hearings officer approves it — and there is no review by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals — construction could start next summer and take about a year.

Commissioner Bob Terry, who said he has a family member dealing with mental illness, said the proposed duplexes are on the other end of the housing spectrum from a secure residential treatment facility requiring onsite supervision.

"This is not one of the bad ones," said Terry, who has been an advocate for a greater county effort to provide mental health services.

"As a society, we need to deal with the issue and all of us have to pay a little price."

Applicants will be screened first by Community Connect, which falls under the community action agency for Washington County, then by Luke-Dorf and by an outside company. Luke-Dorf says it will exclude applicants who have been convicted of felonies, are sex offenders, or have current drug abuse problems. The latter restriction on drugs includes marijuana, although Oregon voters legalized recreational use for adults in 2014.

Opponents persist

Ross Day, a lawyer who represents 12 residents opposing it, said he isn't giving up the fight.

"I believe I am pretty sure this is not an allowed (land) use," he said.

Many project opponents live near the site, which is a block from Cooper Mountain Elementary School, and organized as Stop Clover Court.

They had raised the specter of what happened with Connell House, which began in 2007 in Cornelius as a secure residential treatment facility for people released from Oregon State Hospital.

A yearlong controversy ensued with allegations of drug use and sex, followed by the city's revocation of a conditional-use permit for Luke-Dorf and a shutdown by the state. Then a compromise in 2009 allowed a group home for up to 12 people who require less supervision than the former secure facility.

"I am in favor of helping the homeless, but not at this location," said Marcus Winston, a resident.

"This is a well-intentioned but not well-thought-through project," said Jessica Meraki, another resident.

But Clayton Callahan, who lives near Kinnaman Elementary School, said there are similar housing projects nearby under a different provider "and neither I nor my neighbors have had any problems."

County Counsel Alan Rappleyea advised the commissioners they could not consider opposition based on the status of people with disabilities, who are considered a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.

William Allen, housing and operations director for Luke-Dorf, said he discounted their potential for misconduct.

"Studies continue to show that violence is no more prevalent among these individuals than individuals in the general population, and are 10 times more likely to be a victim of a crime," he said.

Commissioner Greg Malinowski said Luke-Dorf will nevertheless be the focus of public attention.

"The county needs to be able to trust you," he said after Luke-Dorf officials offered a 30-minute presentation about the project.

"I think we're going to be taking care of people who are already in the neighborhood but we don't know it."

A 'public interest'

Commissioner Roy Rogers said the level of detail Luke-Dorf presented was unnecessary for a land transfer. But he asked for assurances in the property covenants that if Luke-Dorf is unable to continue to sponsor housing for the 15 years envisioned, the county is empowered to obtain another provider — and even oversee the housing for a short period if necessary.

Commissioner Dick Schouten, whose district includes the site, said Washington County is woefully short of low-cost housing for these and others. The vacancy rate for all housing in the Beaverton-Aloha area is 2.6 percent.

"We are trying to further a public interest here … and this is an opportunity to do that," he said. "We simply cannot treat these people differently than anyone else."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has already approved more than $600,000 for the project. HUD determined in May that a full environmental impact statement was unnecessary under federal law.'

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