PROSSER -- A proposal to build low-income housing on 11.6 acres in Prosser moved closer to winning city support Tuesday when the city council decided to schedule a final vote on the land use matter for next month.
Catholic Charities Housing Services in Yakima needs council approval on a package of comprehensive plan amendments before it can pursue building a 121-unit low-income housing project on the property on North River Road.
Tuesday's vote was 4-3 in directing city staff to prepare an ordinance that would approve the package of amendments, one of which is to designate the North River Road property as high-density, while another involves a 20-acre high-density residential property on Wamba Road that would change to agritourism land use.
Losing 20 acres that is designated high-density residential is forcing the council to consider reclassifying the North River Road property as high-density.
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Mayor Pro Tem Randy Taylor voted with councilmen Morgan Everett, Steve Becken and Ernest Troemel to bring the comprehensive plan amendments back to council April 5 for the final approval, while councilmen Richard Poteet, Terry Chambers and Jason Rainer were against it.
The council meeting, held at the Princess Theatre, had fewer than 50 people attending, which was far less than the public hearing conducted at the theater three weeks ago, when a majority of speakers said they didn't want a low-income housing project built on the 11.6 acres.
City Manager Charlie Bush told the council Tuesday that their decision needed to be about creating high-density land use, not about Catholic Charities' proposal or any other possible project.
Bush said city staff recommended approving the amendments because they will help the city meet criteria for providing a sufficient mix of housing in its comprehensive plan.
"I wish we had more options, but the council's decision must be legal, ethical, objective and technically sound," Bush said.
Councilman Chambers said 11.6 acres was far more than any other tract of high-density land in the city, and the council should investigate further by hiring a planning consultant at a cost of $50,000, if necessary.
"A lot of time and money needs to go into this to be sure it is the right decision," he said.
Councilman Poteet was concerned that121 units at one location would over-saturate the area. He suggested having high-density land use spread around the city at several locations.
But Taylor noted that the Canyon Drive Apartments, which are on 3.9 acres, have 120 units, which is more compact than the11.6 acres on North River Road.
"We are not taking into account the amount of green space in what is proposed for the 11.6 acres," Taylor said.
Bryan Ketcham, director of Catholic Charities Housing Services, said the 4-3 vote, while close, was encouraging.
"It was a difficult decision for the council, but it was the right one for our proposal and for the city of Prosser," he said.
Prior to the vote, Councilman Troemel argued against further study and delaying a decision.
"Let's not go back and pound the same ground again. If we don't do something, this will be forced upon us (by a legal challenge related to housing needs in Prosser)," he said.
Bush told the council earlier in the meeting that if the council didn't want to proceed with approving the comprehensive plan amendments, he would like them not to vote no, but postpone action so he could confer with Catholic Charities and the city attorney.
"I want to make sure you are not putting yourself (as a council) on a slippery slope," he said.
Bush told the Herald that Catholic Charities has given the city a "shot over the bow," threatening a federal lawsuit if the council does not act to preserve sufficient high-density residential property in Prosser.