Beyond The Norm-Mel

City needs housing for our farm worker population

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in a Sunnyside Planning Commission meeting when it hit me that the issue up for debate really affects my life.

The commissioners were holding a public hearing on whether or not a piece of property located near the corner of South 16th Street and Sheller Road should be annexed into the city limits and what the zoning should be.

The voice of the property owners was a spokesperson with the Yakima Diocese, which is looking to develop a low-income townhouse complex on the acreage, along with a unified office space.

I've seen the townhouses the Diocese is proposing for the land. Anyone who has been to Artz-Fox Elementary School in Mabton in the past year has seen a similar project the Diocese undertook. It is a sharp looking facility that is well manicured and kept looking sharp. The planning commission decided annexation of the property was in the best interest of the city, but decided that rather than the R-3, high density zoning that was requested, R-2 would better suit the needs of the diocese, which was already planning on developing the property with a lower number of homes per acre. The R-3 was requested because of the plans to build an office building on the same property.

One of the biggest concerns has been the issue of traffic. Residents in a neighborhood across the street said that they have difficulty pulling onto South 16th Street because of the volumes of traffic that the other low income housing units in the North Avenue neighborhood produce.

This intrigued me. Living on 16th Street much closer to the high school I have very little difficulty entering the traffic flow of the by-way anytime of day or night, and I often have to back onto the street from my driveway.

Most of the residents testifying at the hearing were residents in the neighborhood off of 16th Street.

The planning commission also took into serious consideration the new schools that are planned for nearby Washout Road. The schools are still in the very preliminary stages. I think the commissioners needed a little more information on the school development before making a decision, but because the public hearing had been postponed several times due to a lack of quorum, the time for investigation had been eaten up.

Although it's good to look into the future, isn't it also good to look at the needs now?

The school district may one day petition for annexation. That's great, but the people putting forth the proposal to the commission filed first.

So what if a traffic light may one day need to be installed at the four-way intersection of Sixteenth Street and Sheller Road. Across the state late-coming developers are absorbing the costs of development impacts. Shouldn't it be the same here as the community grows in that direction.

What I think it all boils down to is Sunnyside's lack of adequate housing and refusal to address the issue.

There is a lack of housing across the board in all levels of neighborhoods from R-1 single family residential to R-3, which allows apartment complexes. Although the city seems to be against apartments, it is important to have them. What would be nice to see is the city nursing a development of apartments that aren't low income.

There are new R-1 homes being built, but only a few in the community can actually afford them. Most of the families trying to make a start as homeowners come out of renting apartments and houses or living in crowded conditions with family. They can't afford a $120,000 house. Very few in this community can. While I agree the hope is that people in the community will become homeowners because it builds stronger communities, it is imperative that intermediate housing be provided.

The Diocese of Yakima's housing center in Mabton provides not only low income residents, but migrant workers a quality place to live while they are working in the fields. I wouldn't expect a migrant family who spends very little of their time in the Lower Valley to purchase a home. There are a few who do, but the majority don't. By allowing developments such as the Diocese proposes, a better quality of life for the workers and their children is allowed. They can have a respectable roof over their heads during the summer months rather than sleeping in a camp down by the river or in a trailer with two or three other families.

. Melissa Dekker can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or e-mail


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