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Worker housing could hit a snag

The Diocese of Yakima Housing Services project near Sheller Road and 16th Street in Sunnyside hit a possible bump in the road Monday night.

The Sunnyside City Council on Monday approved a $150,000 state block grant application to pipe and cover the irrigation ditch along the stretch of road immediately in front of the Diocese's proposed 50-unit affordable housing development for migrant workers.

The grant would also help widen the road and provide curb, gutter and sidewalk improvements along a 300-foot stretch in front of the project. Sunnyside's role would be to "pass through" the grant funds, if approved by the state, to the Diocese.

That's the good news.

During discussion on the project, City Manager Bob Stockwell reminded Diocese development coordinator John Probst that a total of 600 feet in piping and street improvements are required as part of a conditional use permit for the project.

The additional work would be needed north from the edge of the housing units all the way to the corner of 16th and Sheller.

Probst replied that the Diocese was turned down for the conditional use permit and has altered its plans accordingly for the affordable housing units.

"My understanding is that the Diocese was going to cover the cost themselves," North Avenue resident Ron Hochhalter said of the road all the way to 16th and Sheller. "Now we're going to take taxpayer money to do this?" added Hochhalter during a public comment period.

Probst said price quotes from the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District were running in the neighborhood of $150,000 for the extra footage. "The price of pipe is rapidly increasing," he noted.

Probst added that he could recall nothing in writing between the Diocese and Sunnyside which requires improving the additional 300 feet out to the intersection at 16th and Sheller.

"I recall on the planning commission that there was an understanding the ditch would be covered (to the intersection)," said Councilwoman Theresa Hancock, a former member of the Sunnyside Planning Commission.

Though council voted unanimously to approve the grant application for improving 300 feet of roadway and irrigation ditch, Stockwell asserted after the meeting that a building permit will not be granted for the housing project until all 600 feet is improved.

"We need to meet with the city and clarify some things," Probst said later.

He also expressed optimism that the extra 300 feet in improvements would not be a deal breaker for the migrant housing project.

"We plan to break ground this July or August," Probst said.

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