[Hpn] seattletimes.com: Neighbors sue to halt post-jail housing at Cedar Hills

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Neighbors sue to halt post-jail housing at Cedar Hills
Full story: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004062801_cedarhills10m.html

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporter



Neighbors of King County's former Cedar Hills Alcohol Treatment Center have filed a lawsuit attempting to stop the buildings from being used as a place where women who have been in jail can reunite with their children.

The Cedar Hills Rural Preservation Alliance's suit claims the project, Passage Point, would violate the area's low-density residential zoning.

Passage Point, developed by the county, the YWCA and the King County Housing Authority, initially would provide apartments for 46 parents, along with counseling and help with education, job skills, parenting, and support for recovery from drugs and alcohol addictions.

King County has agreed to sell the former treatment-center buildings -- but not the land -- to a housing partnership created by the YWCA, which would convert the former dormitories into one- and two-bedroom apartments. The county has agreed to pay $4 million of the $13.3 million renovation cost for 46 apartments. An additional 24 units would be opened later.

The property, next to the county's Cedar Hills Landfill, is near Maple Valley.

When fully built, Passage Point would house up to 70 parents and possibly as many as 100 children. Its sponsors say it would reduce homelessness, bring children out of foster care and help move parents from crime to steady employment.

But many neighbors are worried about what the project would mean for their rural neighborhood. The Rural Preservation Alliance's Web site says property values, personal safety, home security and quality of public schools are at stake.

The lawsuit, filed by the alliance Nov. 19, challenges county Department of Development and Environmental Services' (DDES) determination that Passage Point is allowable as a continuation of the same nonconforming use as the alcohol-treatment center, which opened in 1967 and closed in 2002 for budget reasons.

"What's at issue is the county's willingness to fudge the rules to achieve an objective it wants," said Rural Preservation Alliance attorney Jeffrey Eustis.

DDES Director Stephanie Warden defended her agency's decision, saying Passage Point and the treatment center are "a similar enough type" of use, and said the break in use doesn't legally matter because there was no "intent to abandon" the buildings.

Beyond the legal issues are conflicting views of what Passage Point would mean both for its residents and its neighbors.

When King County suggested a program for women who hoped to regain custody of their children after leaving jails or addiction-treatment programs, the YWCA's South King County regional director, Linda Rasmussen, concluded it would meet a "huge" need and fit the Y's mission of "improving the lives of women and their families and children."

Men would be eligible for the program. Most residents would be women who have served jail time or who have been homeless, Rasmussen said. Sex offenders and people convicted of violent crimes would not be eligible.

The YWCA operates a similar program in Everett for eight households. "We know it can be done successfully and we know it does take a long time," Rasmussen said.

Sharon Kay, a neighbor, said Cedar Hills is too remote for Passage Point to meet the needs of its residents. "I've lived below the poverty line," she said. "I know how important that infrastructure is when you don't have a lot of resources."

Said Tracey Kronberg, director of the Rural Preservation Alliance, "I am not against Passage Point," she said. "I am against Passage Point at this location."

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com





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