Helping Hands hits a roadblock

Helping Hands' dream is use the Hyak Building, on the corner of Edgewood Street and Avenue S, to house men who are in the last phase of their re-entry program.

SEASIDE — The Hyak Building project in Seaside is facing yet another challenge, this time in the form of soon-to-be neighbors who don’t want the facility nearby.

The building in question is a large multi-unit dwelling on the corner of Edgewood Street and Avenue S that is owned by the Clatsop County Housing Authority. The county authority is ready to transfer the property and building to the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, which has partnered with Helping Hands to use part of the building to house men who are in the last phase of the Seaside-based nonprofit’s re-entry program. Clatsop Community Action also plans to contribute to the project by providing rental assistance funding for the building’s first-floor independent living units through a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program called Continuum of Care.

Some people are unhappy with that prospect and are asking that Helping Hands find a new location.

At Wednesday’s Clatsop County Housing Authority meeting, Rosemary Baker-Monaghan, who lives near the building on Edgewood Street, said the nonconforming use of the Hyak building as a multifamily dwelling has lapsed and is no longer allowed.

“I think the project that is planned for this property is going to have to find another location,” said Baker-Monaghan, a former Seaside mayor and the executive director of Astoria’s Liberty Theater.

The property, she said, must now conform to the residential medium density, or R2, zone, which only allows a single-family dwelling or duplex.

A nonconforming use, according to Seaside’s Zoning Ordinance, is the use of a structure or lot, which existed prior to the adoption or amendment of the ordinance, that does not conform to the new zone regulations. The ordinance continues, however, that if a nonconforming use is discontinued for a period of 12 months, subsequent uses of the lot, parcel or structure have to conform to the zoning ordinance. No one has occupied the Hyak Building for a couple years. The property was purchased by Clatsop County Housing Authority in early 2012, and a few months later it was officially intended for use by Helping Hands.

Baker-Monaghan has taken up her concerns with the city of Seaside, as well, and is relying on a case from Clackamas County that took place in the early 1990s as support for her position. In Clackamas County, a dwelling in an exclusive farm-use zone that was used as a single family residence lost its right to the nonconforming residential use — which was not a permissible use in the exclusive farm use district — after its occupant died and the house was unoccupied for a few years. In that case, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals upheld the decision of the county hearings officer.

Baker-Monaghan is not the only person who has raised concerns. Another woman, who described herself as a “concerned property owner,” in February sent an email to Seaside Mayor Don Larson, Northwest Oregon Housing Authority Executive Director Todd Johnston, Helping Hands, Seaside City Manager Mark Winstanley, Clatsop County Commissioner Sarah Nebeker and others.

“I am writing to strongly protest this location as an owner of a single-family home on the same block,” she wrote. “The south end of Seaside is a quiet neighborhood made up of primarily single-family homes. The thought that someone would insert this type of nonresidential use and in essence devalue all of the surrounding homes is 100 percent wrong. Not to mention potentially inserting a criminal element.”

She described Helping Hands’ project as “a drug and alcohol halfway house.” The house, though, is not designated for convicted criminals or former prisoners; it would be used for housing formerly homeless men who are in the “pregraduate” stage of Helping Hands’ multimonth re-entry program. The occupants would be enrolled in school or carry jobs and would pay a small rent to cover the cost of the lease.

The backlash from neighbors is just the most recent in a series of roadblocks faced by Helping Hands in the process of using the house. The organization had struck a partnership with the Clatsop County Housing Authority to lease the building in August 2012, but the deal hit a series of obstacles that ended up causing financial stress for Helping Hands.

At that time, the building was going to be renovated with a $500,000 grant that Oregon Housing and Community Services awarded to the county authority. But the deal between Helping Hands and the county authority was thrown into limbo in December 2012 when the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners took over the county authority and dismissed the agency’s board, executive director and operations manager.

The grant was put on hold, along with a loan to complete the purchase of the building. When Helping Hands Executive Director Alan Evans found out the monthly payment to lease the building would be $3,500 instead of $1,000, as he originally believed, he backed off the deal completely.

NOHA now administers the county authority, although the county commissioners continue to serve as the county housing authority’s board. NOHA applied with Oregon Housing and Community Services to sponsor the Hyak Building project, and the state agreed to that proposal and will grant the $500,000 in general housing account funds when the property is owned by NOHA. The agency then will use the money to renovate the building.

The agenda for the April 2 meeting of the NOHA board of directors includes the signing of a draft agreement with the county authority to take over the Hyak property. Johnston said they’ve finished a capital needs assessment and environmental report and were ready to get contractors to do the construction.

He doesn’t foresee the project being stopped or moved, even in light of the complaints.

“If the zoning has to be changed, or if the noncompliant use cannot continue, which we do plan to dispute or look into further, if that can’t be resolved, then we feel confident we can still move the project forward using the current zoning regulations,” Johnston told the county authority board. “We still feel like it’s an important project for the community, for that population and for the county.”

Evans agreed the organization would be willing to alter its plans to conform, if that is what the city of Seaside decides or if an appeal fails.

“It’s still a workable project for Helping Hands and I believe that we can move forward with it,” he said, adding later, “We’re going to make this obstacle into an opportunity.”

The county housing authority will have to pay attorney fees for a preliminary investigation to review the zoning regulation concerns and form a response. County Commissioner Lianne Thompson asked for an estimation of the cost before moving forward.

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