Plan draws questions, opposition, but also support for 30 tiny homes clustered on county-owned land in the Clackamas Industrial Area; decision due in mid-December

The fate of a transitional shelter intended for veterans is in the hands of a Clackamas County hearings officer.

Fred Wilson, a Salem lawyer, heard a planning staff recommendation for approval — and arguments for and against the 30 tiny homes in the proposed veterans' village — during an hourlong proceeding Thursday, Nov. 30.

Wilson promised a written decision by mid-December on the request by the Clackamas County Health, Housing and Human Services Department for a conditional-use permit.

The county was in the unusual position of being the applicant for the project, which county commissioners funded at $300,000 in the 2016-17 budget and carried over into the current budget.

The village would be on 1.5 acres owned by the Clackamas County Development Agency at SE 115th Avenue and Jennifer Street in the Clackamas Industrial Area. The site is south of the Fred Meyer distribution center.

The first 15 tiny homes, known as "pods" and each measuring 8 feet by 12 feet, have been assembled on the county's Red Soils campus in Oregon City and await placement. The others will be built by veterans themselves.

They will share a common kitchen and restrooms.

Paul Edgar of Oregon City, who sits on the county's veterans advisory council, said the location is isolated but the village is needed now.

"We must realize that this location is not the best location, but it is property owned by the county," he said.

"To me, some of this is a critically needed Band-Aid, but Band-Aids come off. In the long term, we have to look at creating conditions where people are no longer needing shelters.

"This is the right first step of doing something that is critically needed. But there has to be a lot of additional steps down the line before we come up with something that addresses all of the needs of these people."

Officials and advocates acknowledge that the proposed shelter would decrease Clackamas County's homeless numbers only a little — point-in-time counts rose 4 percent from 2,196 in 2015 to 2,293 in January of this year — but it would make a difference in housing veterans.

A 'measured response'

County commissioners changed the zoning code a few months ago to clear the way for transitional shelters in industrial zones. But they limited them to county-owned land.

"The current proposal is a measured response to our current housing crisis that does not turn over all industrial lands for transitional shelter housing," said Gene Zaharic of Milwaukie, who is part of the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good, a coalition of about two dozen churches, labor unions and other groups.

"It's a reasonable approach to using a pilot process to learn how best to implement transitional shelter housing across the county in the years ahead."

But Tim Winsett, who owns a nearby industrial site that had been used for a rock-crushing operation, questioned whether the presence of such a shelter may bring about new restrictions, such as limits on noise.

"I am not necessarily opposed to what is proposed here," he said. "But I do have concerns about some of the conditional uses that may take place."

Planning Director Mike McCallister said the transitional shelter would remain in a zone where industrial uses are permitted outright.

But Winsett and Rebecca Henry of West Linn said there is nothing in the zoning-code change or proposed conditional-use permit that specifically limits the transitional shelter to veterans.

"I would say there either is an error on the proposal … or that the public has been misinformed," said Henry, who asked for a postponement of the hearing. Wilson declined her request.

Intended for vets

McCallister said in response that land use effects of a transitional shelter were likely to be the same no matter who occupied it.

"In this instance, however … the money is being provided by the board (of commissioners) to support this for a veterans shelter," he said.

"With that said, I think there is no error in how the public notice was provided."

County Administrator Don Krupp said afterward that though land use proceedings would not cover it, operating conditions would be set in the pending contract between the county and Catholic Charities as the service provider for the shelter. Among the conditions are limiting the residents to veterans and barring drug and alcohol use on the site.

That contract will require approval by Krupp and the commissioners.

County commissioners declared a housing emergency Nov. 8.

Kevin Ko is a county housing and community development manager overseeing the project. He said county officials, including commissioners, have looked at similar programs in Eugene and Portland.

"We recognized some of the failings and strengths of each of those shelters, and we intend to incorporate those into the operating policies of this shelter," he said during the hearing.

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Adds that homes will share kitchen and restrooms.

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