Residents oppose low-income housing project

PROSSER -- More than 200 people stood up Tuesday before the Prosser City Council, objecting to a proposed low-income, high-density housing project north of town.

The public hearing that packed the Princess Theatre for three hours was in response to a proposed comprehensive plan amendment requested by Catholic Charities Housing Services. The faith-based nonprofit wants to build up to 139 units on 11 acres off North River Road that would primarily serve families of agricultural workers.

The amendment would reclassify the land use from low-medium density to high density. The city planning commission unanimously opposed the change, but Prosser city staff encouraged the council to allow it.

"We feel our proposal best meets the long-term needs for low-income housing," said Bryan Ketcham of Catholic Charities Housing Services in Yakima.

Nate Veranth, a lawyer representing the nonprofit, said the city could be at risk of violating the state's Growth Management Act if it does not allow the land use change because of a recent rezoning that took 20 acres on Wamba Road out of high-density residential use for agri-tourism.

But citizens showed little sympathy or support for the proposal.

"What is the city getting out of this?" asked Peggy Brown, who noted that hundreds of new low-income residents will strain the schools, police and other municipal services.

"I moved here for a certain lifestyle. I don't expect anyone to support me, so just who is going to live in this complex, homeless vets?" Brown said.

Jeff Ashmead presented 160 signed protest cards for the council to review, then turned to Catholic Charities' representatives and blurted out: "You folks are not welcome here."

At one point, Mayor Paul Warden cautioned the audience he would adjourn the meeting if people didn't behave.

"We'll not do this by mob rule," he warned.

Bernie Bielicki predicted the project would bring to Prosser what Grandview and Sunnyside have -- more crime and more trouble.

And Peter Cole said it would pay no property taxes while requiring city services.

Among the few people supporting the project were Pastor Osmar Aguirre with Sacred Heart Church.

"I know first-hand of our housing needs for these hardworking people. It is heart-breaking and a moral obligation," he said.

Warden said the council will make its decision at a future meeting after reviewing the comments.