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Low income housing proposal hits snag

After nearly two hours of public testimony surrounding an annexation and land use request from Sunnyside property owners Brandon Burns and Harry and Laura Burns, the Sunnyside Planning Commission voted this past Wednesday night to approve the Burns' annexation into the city limits.

However, the Planning Commission denied the Burns' land use request for their property, located at the southeast corner of North 16th Street and Sheller Road. Commission members said it didn't conform with surrounding land uses located on the west side of North 16th Street.

The Burns sought to have their property zoned R-3, high density residential, which allows for the development of multi-housing complexes.

"We've discovered our original plan for development of the land is unworkable," Harry Burns told the Commission. He said the family had been contacted by the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services, which wants to create a 51-unit housing complex on the Burns property, as well as an office that would oversee the operations of all its Lower Valley housing complexes.

However, despite the attractiveness of the Diocese's proposal, which is similar to an existing housing complex recently completed in Mabton, the Planning Commission determined that R-2 was a better match for the area in question. The commissioners felt the area should not be used for professional offices, which is allowable under the R-3 zoning codes.

Representatives for the Diocese and Beacon Development Group, the project developers, told the commission they supported the Burns' request for an R-3 designation.

They took Wednesday night's public hearing as an opportunity to outline how their affordable housing proposal could enhance the community. The developers expect to not only provide rental property for low income families, but education programs to help families stabilize with the end goal being home ownership. Their plan for the Sheller Road property include a park-like play area, as well as street, curb and gutter improvements, as well as covering the SVID ditch located nearby. The developers had also hoped to build a professional family counseling services office on the property to further enhance the new neighborhood.

"The area in question is listed as a transitional residential area on your existing comprehensive land management plan," said Robert Probst, the Diocese's development coordinator.

The Burns' Sheller Road property is flanked by CanAm Steel, an auto wrecking yard, a farm shop, businesses, a school, a church, as well as some residences.

"The area is of the proper size for our proposal," Probst said, adding the funding is in place for what the housing service expects will be a $5 million development.

"It has the potential of creating a neighborhood style environment," added James Carmody, an attorney for the Diocese.

However, after asking many questions regarding the scope of the project, and even agreeing it was an attractive proposal, the planning commissioners decided the proposal didn't suit the neighborhood in question.

The Commission voted 4-2 for the annexation, but chose to recommend the R-2 designation as being more in keeping with the city's development needs. The commissioners encouraged the Diocese to continue with its proposal under the R-2 zone requirements.

"It is better for the community that the proposed annexation area be zoned R-2, medium density residential," said Commissioner Barry Weaver, who made the motion for the annexation and zoning use.

The Diocese developers will however, have to seek a variance from the city's Board of Adjustment in order to allow it to proceed as currently proposed.

In September, the Sunnyside City Council had suggested the area be zoned ranchette, but the Commission felt the area is more suited to the medium density designation.

The Planning Commission's annexation and zoning recommendation now goes before the State Boundary Review Board for Yakima County.

It may be several months before the commission learns of the board's decision, said City Attorney Mark Kunkler.

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