Community Post

First Place School low-income housing plan passes Hearing Examiner review

The plan by Central District’s First Place School to put 16 units of low-income housing on its parking lot was controversial with some of our commenters when we first reported on the project back in March. But a hearing examiner’s review of the project found that “no written public comments were submitted to DPD or the Hearing Examiner on this proposal,” and the only testimony at the hearing was in support of the project. UPDATE: This post has been updated. Location information for the facility has been obfuscated due to privacy concerns.

The core issue is whether that mid-block parcel should be rezoned from L1 to L3, which allows more height, more building area, and reduced setbacks from the property line.

The hearing examiner looked at all of the factors surrounding the rezone and recommends approval of the project, having found that it has no negative environmental effects and supports the neighborhood plan’s goal of adding 650 new units of housing within the surrounding area.

The next step for the project is final city council approval of the rezone, which should come up for a vote within the next few months.

First Place School has obtained $4 million from the Washington State Housing Trust Fund and $500,000 from the Gates Foundation to construct the new building and is in a partnership with Catholic Housing Services. The schools goal is to provide new housing options for the families of its students who are in need.

0 thoughts on “First Place School low-income housing plan passes Hearing Examiner review

  1. My understanding is that the location of this building is supposed to be confidential in order to protect numerous families who are escaping domestic violence. Why was a photo and a map included in this post?!

  2. as a housing developer, i have never heard of a quasi-judicial practice, such as a rezone, being kept confidential for any reason. if the intent of this project is secretive, than the owner never should have undertaken a rezone, which casts the maximum light on a development…

  3. Many of the clients of First Place have fled domestic violence. For safety purposes, the school asks the media to avoid publishing its location in order to protect the families. Thus the concern by “Neighbor” for Central District News publishing its location.

  4. This true. However, the community has a right to information regarding the rezone. How would this normally be handled? The action can’t be secret.

  5. Note that CDNews has reported on this development twice before and never received any request for privacy. We’ve also reached out directly to First Place staff and our calls were not returned.

    But in any case, the concept of privacy in zoning is unusual. The process is very public. And it would be very difficult to inform neighbors about large development projects without including some notion of the location.

  6. I think the facility will realize that its location will become known. It will surely design its facilities with appropriate security in mind.

    Go look at Jubilee Women’s Center on Capitol Hill to see how this can be done in a sensitive manner:

    and note that Jubilee includes their address, and photos of their building, on their website.

  7. I think from the written comments made by other CD neighbors, that there is quite abit of support for this project, and for the support that these victims deserve. But, I think that if the surrounding community had been left in the dark about what the re-zoning would support, then I think the responce might have been much different.

    As to the need for confidentiality, I think the intent of the project, as well as the ability of agency to provide certain stability and services, needed to be published and understood. The time for confidentiality comes later when individual victim’s lives are at stake, and when the agency needs to provide the security necessary to protecting these victims. As it is, right now, I believe that the CD neighbors that would be effected by a re-zone, appreciate being treated like trusted and valued neighbors, and given the opportunity to comment on such an important potential change to our community.

    Though I would prefer that the zoning officers consider that the adjoining streets around this proposed re-zone area, are in sad shape, very narrow, and suffering from tight street parking ( this will be worse when housing takes the current schools off street parking ), I still would expect that our community will support the intent of this project.

  8. Thank you for removing the photo and map. I realize this is a complicated issue, but at least for the moment, the families at the school will benefit from our erring on the side of caution. I am sorry to hear that the school did not respond to an opportunity to talk with you, although this does not surprise me. Too bad.

  9. Protecting families who are trying to escape DV situations is very important and I appreciate that this post has been edited to reflect safety concerns. Scott I hear what you’re saying but also know that you get out and about in the neighborhood. I’ve seen you taking pictures and meeting with people for stories. If you have tried to contact First Place by phone and had no response, what stopped you from walking the few blocks to the school to ask in person? I’m sure you would have gotten some answers about how the school would like for this to be handled.

  10. I have to say that as a housing developer (for vulnerable populations) I am really concerned about the precedent that this sets. To give these families the impression that this project is in ANY WAY private is a complete falsehood. It has public money in it, and thus the project details are completely open to anyone who wants them (rightfully so since it is being built with public money) and it went through an incredibly public process of a contract rezone, also a completely transparent and open thing. I don’t understand why efforts are being made by this blog to now hide information when this information is legally required to be public (as in the rezone especially) Again, I think it does harm to residents and the school alike to perpetuate the idea that this is in some way a “secret” or “undisclosed” location. If they wanted it to be secret they should have bought a property/building with private money that required no redevelopment to it so that families could move in without any scrutiny. Instead they chose to build something with public money that requires a City sanctioned rezone action – about the most public you can get.

    I am nervous about precedent because one of the hallmarks of being a good development neighbor is to openly share information about what a project will entail. If developers start claiming that their programs need to be “secret” even for very good reasons like domestic violence, it could cause serious problems.

    Again, Justin and Scott, do you see any conflict here with amending your post to leave information out on a completely public project?

  11. Any conflict? Sure. I believe information should be public and shared. I also believe in specific circumstances of discretion. If we were concerned about the public process being significantly damaged by not continuing to disclose the address, we would not have modified the content. I see no evidence that a robust civic discussion can’t happen on this project with or without our publishing the address. Given the sensitivity around publishing it at this time, we have decided not to.

  12. But Justin, the address has already been fully and completely revealed through numerous other public processes. The hearing examiner’s report includes the address! Anyone could have gone to design review and learned exactly where it is. It just seems really inconsistent with the public record to now drape this project in secrecy…and I remain concerned that it perpetuates an idea that someone can live here in secret, which is perhaps the most dangerous thing, to give someone a false sense of safety when this has in no way been a secret project!

  13. Representatives of First Place (the property owner), Catholic Housing Services (the developer), Donald King (the architect), and the law firm advising with the rezone request have met with the Squire Park Community Council on two occasions in the last several months. The Community Council is available as a forum for those with questions or a point of view to express about the project.

    There’ve been questions about details of the project, but also a recognition that there are some unique factors related to the zoning and previous development on this block that make it likely that the City Council will consider the rezone to be appropriate, as recommended by the Department of Planning and Development and the Hearing Examiner. And, as noted by Scott in his story, the Hearing Examiner received no comments objecting to the requested rezone.

    The rezone has not been presented to the City Council for approval. Those who are interested should follow the agenda of the Committee on the Built Environment, chaired by Councilmember Clark . The developers expect to get this before the City Council as soon as possible (in the next month or two). Those meetings, of course, will be public and will allow comment.

    The project has not yet gone through the design review process. At the Early Design Guidance there’ll be an opportunity to make comments on design issues. The developers predict that will happen next spring. They offered to come back to the Squire Park Community Council before the EDG meeting to answer questions and take comments.

    At neither of the meetings discussed above did any of the representatives of the project request that the location be kept secret.

  14. The city understands confidentiality protection for DV victims. There are numerous examples of policies that support this locally and statewide. For example, voter registration and marriage records are public information but can be protected through confidentiality programs. From the address confidentiality website: “The Address Confidentiality Program assists crime victims (specifically victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking and stalking) who have relocated to avoid further abuse. It helps participants keep their home, work and/or school address secret by providing a substitute mailing address they can use instead. It also allows clients to register to vote and apply for a marriage licenses without creating public records.” Would you say that is also a dangerous precedent?

  15. @Jennifer, not at all. I think those policies are good and I would hope anyone living here would use that framework given that the purpose of this project and location have been fully disclosed for months, as Bill highlights below. I am simply trying to point out that talking about this project (and amending blog posts) as if it is secret does a disservice to those living here, because it has been anything but secret, and we shouldn’t perpetuate that for fear that DV victims will have a false sense of safety there, once developed.

  16. When I posted last night what I thought would clarify what “Neighbor” meant by “confidential”, it was misconstrued. First, I was not speaking for or on behalf of First Place, just as a concerned long time supporter. Second, in stating “the school asks the media to avoid publishing its location . . .” I meant they try to avoid making it easy for someone to learn their location who may want to do harm and may act “in the moment”. I was not implying that they were trying to conceal themselves from the greater (good) public.

    Thank you Central District News for pulling the location to First Place – it’s not necessary, at least in terms of their rezoning proposal. I assume everybody, who needs to know, has been made aware of their location without constraint.

  17. “concerned” – please see my follow up post below (“Confidential” Clarification).

  18. Exactly! This story currently has 617 views. The title is First Place School and the address was published in the story. DPD public records are accessible but do not provide the same type of publicity that the CDN does. The school does not publish their address on their website for the same reason. It is not that they do not want anyone to know where they are, it’s that they don’t want EVERYONE to know where they are.

  19. I am not concerned about the privacy and confidentiality of families as much as I am concerned about the school where the children attend.There is a great need for a playground,and larger classrooms. I taught at First Place for 13 years and I am praising the presence of a facility to aid families trying to get help but as a teacher, I often wished for a larger facility that would provide space for the students not to be so cramped. Hopefully, the new very needed building will enhanced the school too. First Place is not totally confidential. That would be almost impossible. Although they may house some parents, I am sure that domestic violent victim will live else where if neccessary.