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Sunnyside City Council says no to Catholic Diocese housing presentation

Told that last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting was not the correct public forum to present a slide show on a housing development planned for this community, several members of the Catholic Diocese quietly packed up their projector and went home.

Last night's Council agenda called for the Catholic Family Services group to make an informational presentation on a multi-unit, low income housing complex the Diocese wants to build near Sheller Road and 16th Street. But before Diocese spokesman Mario Villanueva, or his projector, even got warmed up, he was interrupted by Mayor Ed Prilucik, who asked Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler if such a presentation could be heard outside public hearing proceedings.

Kunkler, hemming and hawing a bit, responded that the information should be presented in general terms on what the Diocese offers in the way of housing.

Villanueva began anew, but Councilman Don Vlieger quickly interjected, saying that in Villanueva's opening statement the intent was clear that he hoped to persuade the Council to reconsider a zoning decision made by a Sunnyside planning group recently.

The Catholic Diocese is seeking to have two pieces of property at the Sheller Road/16th Street site rezoned as R-2, to accomodate the construction of a multi-unit housing complex. The recommendation from the planning group, though, was to only designate one of the two properties as R-2.

Prilucik took Vlieger's lead and proceeded to ask the rest of the Council members their thoughts on whether or not the Catholic Diocese presentation should be allowed. Councilman Jim Restucci said he and Mayor Pro-Tem Mike Farmer had potential conflicts of interest with the housing project and shouldn't offer an opinion either way. Council member Bengie Aguilar said she was in favor of hearing the presentation.

"I want as much information on this project as possible," she said.

Paul Garcia, recently appointed to the Council, said he too would like to hear the informational presentation, but cited an uncertainty on the legality of the matter and said he would abide by the Mayor's decision.

At that point, Villanueva said he was withdrawing his original statement and the intent implied, and merely wanted to provide a general, overall view on the types of housing the Catholic Diocese provides for residents of the Yakima Valley.

The issue was thrown back in Kunkler's court, but unlike his earlier statement that a presentation in general terms would be acceptable, the city attorney suggested rescheduling the presentation at either a planning commission meeting or another public forum.

Prilucik made the final decision that a presentation by the Catholic Diocese at last night's Council meeting would be inappropriate, saying that in such quasi-judicial matters the Council members act as judges. He pointed out that in the appearance of fairness, all such discussions should be conducted at public hearings, where parties from both sides of a land use issue can be present and have the opportunity to speak.

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