Diocese housing project gets 'thumbs up' (again)

The ongoing saga of the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services trying to build a new housing complex in Sunnyside took another and more than likely final turn at Monday night's Sunnyside City Council meeting.

Council held a public hearing Feb. 28 on the matter of annexing property owned by Rene and Paula Lemos and Brandon Burns and Harry and Laura Burns, located in the area of Sheller Road and 16th Street. Also included in the public hearing was the annexation and zoning of a piece of land referred to as the Martinez parcel. The Council decided at the Feb. 28 meeting, after receiving vast amounts of public input, to approve the annexation request and assign an R-2, medium density residential zoning tag to the property.

The annexation and zoning of the property allowed the land to be sold to the Diocese of Yakima Housing Services, which in turn planned to move forward with building 51 units of rental housing on the property.

However, after it was discovered that at least two property owners to the east of the proposed site had not received advanced notice of the Feb. 28 meeting, following city staff sending out mailings, Council decided to reopen the issue for a public hearing last night.

At last night's meeting, Council only accepted public input from property owners who had not received notice of the February meeting or who had not provided public comment before.

Prior to the proceedings, Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer and Councilman Jim Restucci excused themselves.

Councilman Don Vlieger objected to reopening the public hearing on the project. Vlieger had specific objections to only allowing testimony from residents who hadn't had a chance to speak before.

"We gave Catholic Family Services two sings at this ball," said Vlieger.

Vlieger was making reference to the couple of appearances before Council that the Diocese did have in presenting the housing project, including a nearly hour-long presentation in February.

Mayor Ed Prilucik then put the matter of opening the hearing for all public comment to a Council vote. Councilmen Bruce Ricks and Vlieger voted to open the testimony while Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar and Councilman Paul Garcia voted against the issue. Prilucik provided the tiebreaking vote, siding with not allowing testimony by one and all.

Assistant City Manager/City Attorney Mark Kunkler then provided Council with a report. He assured Council that city staff had resent notices to all of the effected properties in the area, telling of the March 28 public meeting.

But, Dale Gostovich said he was one of the residents who didn't receive an initial mailing from the city.

"I still haven't received a notice," said Gostovich.

Gostovich presented Council with a petition that contained between 60-65 signatures of people who are against the Diocese building the housing project in the area of Sheller Road and 16th Street. Gostovich cited the project will have a negative impact on those living in the area. Reading from a prepared letter, Gostovich cited how the residents of the Diocese housing project would be draining city services. Gostovich said the reason city services would be taxed is because the Diocese is not required to pay property tax. It was pointed out, though, the Yakima-based housing agency has made a commitment of paying the city a contribution of between $6-$11,000 a year, based on figures presented at the Feb. 28 public hearing.

"There is no tax money coming in for the services being provided," said Gostovich.

Gostovich complained the city has been dumping low-income housing projects in the area in question. He said with the school facilities that will be built in that area, the city has some estimated $25-30 million in property that Sunnyside is not collecting taxes from.

Gostovich said the traffic congestion the project will cause in the area is enough reason not to proceed.

"The whole project needs to be rejected," said Gostovich.

Vlieger said one of the reasons he is against the project is because of the amount of property tax money the city will be losing. Vlieger estimated that if the housing project was fully assessed, the city would gain between $44-55,000 per year.

"I think we need to be honest about what is being presented here," said Vlieger. "When you (Council) vote yes on this, ask what you are taking out of other people's pockets."

Vlieger said the Diocese wouldn't be going to all of the trouble to build the homes if money was not being made. He said the Diocese works with private developers under a special exemption to help fund the construction of the homes.

Garcia, though, had a different take on the Diocese's plans. He felt the Diocese housing project would only help relieve the housing shortage that exists in Sunnyside.

"There are a lot of people in Sunnyside who do not have adequate housing," said Garcia.

Garcia said he respects the voice of the people with the petition that was submitted to Council, but said the housing project is one that needs to be done in Sunnyside.

"The importance of providing people adequate housing overrides that concern (of objections by residents)," said Garcia.

Ricks and Vlieger voted against approving the annexation of the property and allowing an R-2 zoning designation. Garcia and Aguilar voted in favor of the proposal with the mayor providing the deciding vote to allow the annexation and zoning of the property.


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