Pasco council OKs permit for Union Gospel Mission shelter

The Tri-City Union Gospel Mission is one step closer to a new home in downtown Pasco.

On Monday, the Pasco City Council unanimously approved a special permit the nonprofit needs to build a new campus at 225 S. Fourth Ave.

The mission plans to build a new men's shelter, a 6,800-square-foot community outreach center that will include a warehouse and a maintenance facility on the property.

The nonprofit purchased the 6.7 acres of land near the Thunderbird Motel from BNSF Railway Co. for $200,000. The purchase was contingent on the mission obtaining the special permit from the city.

Mission officials say the current men's shelter at 112 N. Second Ave. in Pasco is overcrowded and worn down. Last winter, the mission had to turn away some men seeking shelter on several nights, which had never happened before.

And Monday night, the men's shelter was full, with 105 men, said Andrew Porter, the mission's assistant executive director.

"I know we really need these buildings now instead of later," he said.

The men's shelter has 52 beds, so the rest sleep on mats on available floor space, including the chapel.

The planned 36,000-square-foot men's shelter will include dorms with 150 beds as well as a commercial kitchen, a dining area and a chapel.

In addition to space concerns, the nonprofit's warehouse and maintenance building are in the path of the planned Lewis Street overpass, which the city plans to build to replace an aging railroad underpass.

The city is still searching for money to construct the $31 million overpass but started purchasing the properties needed for the project more than a year ago.

The city intends to obtain $10 million each from the state and federal governments and use $5 million in city dollars to pay for the remainder of the project.

Porter said the mission is leasing back its warehouse and maintenance building from the city, but the year-long lease will expire this spring.

The special permit gives the mission two years to break ground, Porter said. But he hopes to start construction before December 2013.

The nonprofit still will need to obtain a building permit for the project before construction can begin.

Mission patrons hang out outside near the shelter during the day and at times line up for services. The new site will include off-street parking, queuing areas and a fenced courtyard, which means those activities should no longer take place on public sidewalks, according to city documents.

Mayor Matt Watkins said that design was well thought out.

The mission will start fundraising in January or February, with the goal of raising 50 to 70 percent of the needed funds through foundations, grants and large donors such as corporations before asking the public to pitch in, Porter said.

Including a new women's shelter in Richland, the projects would cost about $10 million, he said. The new men's shelter and related buildings project may cost up to $7.5 million.

The women's shelter is almost always full, Porter said. On Monday night, it had 35 women and children sleeping there, he said.

Also Monday:

-- The council unanimously approved a memorandum of agreement with the state Department of Ecology for the so-called quad-cities Columbia River water right.

The agreement must be approved by Kennewick, Richland and West Richland, too. It frees up some water that Pasco can obtain to help fill the gap between the water its residents use and the city's water rights.

The department changed how much water it acknowledges that the Tri-Cities and West Richland return to the Columbia River from 60 percent to 80 percent. That frees up about 782.4 million gallons of water, or 2,400 acre-feet, that can be purchased for $40 per acre-foot per year.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com