Jefferson County looking at two new sites to house homeless

Posted 7/21/21

Jefferson County commissioners are backing away from a controversial proposal to create a tent city for the homeless on county property at Cape George.

Instead, commissioners are looking at two …

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Jefferson County looking at two new sites to house homeless

Posted

Jefferson County commissioners are backing away from a controversial proposal to create a tent city for the homeless on county property at Cape George.

Instead, commissioners are looking at two new options to house the homeless: buying the now-vacant building in downtown Port Townsend that once housed Jefferson Community School, and buying a 30-acre property near Mill Road.

Commissioners have authorized County Administrator Mark McCauley to write “letters of intent” for a potential purchase of the two properties.

County officials — worried that an end to Gov. Jay Inslee’s moratorium on evictions would expire at the end of June — started scrambling last month to find a new location for the homeless camp at the county fairgrounds in Port Townsend.

The proposal to move the homeless to the Cape George property, however, created a firestorm of controversy.

Nearby residents blasted the push to immediately approve the location for a tent city for the homeless, and said the site was too remote and lacked power, water, transit and other services.

Some critics accused commissioners of moving the homeless camp to a location where it would be out of sight.

The urgency to find a new site for the fairgrounds campers has waned in recent weeks, after the county agreed to pay the county fair association $100,000 to allow the homeless camp to remain in place at the fairgrounds for another three months.

An earlier plan to buy 14 acres of land in Port Townsend south of West Sims Way not far from the paper mill, meanwhile, has also lost its luster.

The county sought out an appraiser to determine the value of the 14.4-acre property, which County Commissioner Greg Brotherton said would be turned into a “housing hub” that would include permanent supportive housing, emergency shelter services, as well as “landing pad” for some of the fairgrounds campers who don’t do well in group living arrangements.

The property had been listed for sale with an asking price of $1.495 million by John L. Scott Real Estate. 

Explorations on using the property for a housing hub have stalled, however, with details lacking on the extent of infrastructure needed to develop the property for housing.

Now, county officials are thinking a quicker way to provide housing may be to split up the “housing hub” idea and use both the Mill Road location and the former Jefferson Community School building to serve different components of the region’s homeless population.

The Mill Road location could be used for homeless campers, while the Jefferson Community School building in Port Townsend could be used for housing for families in transition.

If the county signs “letters of intent” for the two new locations in Port Townsend, it would prevent the properties from being sold to another buyer.

McCauley said Monday he expected the letters of intent to be completed Wednesday.

Last week, commissioners gave McCauley the go-ahead to sign an agreement with Integra Realty Resources, a Seattle-based real estate appraiser, to conduct appraisals on the Jefferson Community School building property and the five parcels that make up the Mill Road site. 

Brotherton stressed the approval did not mean the county was buying the properties, but only further researching the sites as potential locations.

“There won't be money changing hands,” he said.

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Marge Samuelson

An interesting choice, the JC Community School. The building was built in 1869 by the organization as the Good Templars Hall. Good Templars did not approve of alcohol and took an oath to abstain. The building was occupied in 1871, the top floor for their meetings and the lower floor rented out. The group eventually built a new hall, where the present Aldrich Grocery store is. In 1901 the building was a Chinese detention station for Chines who were awaiting admittance to the U.S. They went from the ship to the hall were they were housed until the U.S. Customs people were convinced they could enter the country. One of the oldest buildings in Port Townsend.

Wednesday, July 21