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Homeless shelter in Charleston: Hearing examiner decides

The decision on whether or not a 25-occupant men’s-only homeless shelter will be built in Bremerton’s Charleston neighborhood now falls on the shoulders of James Driscoll, the city’s hearing examiner.

On Wednesday night in the City Council Chambers, Driscoll heard three hours of testimony from the city planning department, community members and several officials from the organization Catholic Community Services. CCS is spearheading the 10,600-square-foot project named Benedict House. Driscoll has 10 days to respond to CCS’s request.

According to Robert Grumbach, city planner, a succession of different city departments reviewed CCS’s special-use permit to place the group home in the largely residential neighborhood at the foot of Bremerton’s gateway project before approving it.

The $42 million gateway beautification project included $17.4 million to buy up 85 parcels of land, demolish home, and create a sweeping landscape at the Charleston entrance to the city. That phase was completed in 2002.

According to the staff report about the special use permit, the engineering department said increased traffic to the facility would not disable access to local streets.

The fire and police department expressed “no special concerns,” according to the report.

The Kitsap County Health District advised that extreme caution be exercised in regrading the soil if the project is approved by Driscoll, because a car repair shop used to operate on the land and the soil could be heavily contaminated.

A packed house of about 60 people approached the podium to voice their opinions about the proposal.

Attendees ranged from Tiny Collins and Athena Higgins, who have been vocal against the idea since its inception, to Bremerton School Board Member Louis Mitchell and City Council representatives Carol Arends and Mike Short.

“The design and the sheer bulk of the structure does not fit in the neighborhood,” Collins said.

Collins also expressed concern that he nor any of the surrounding residents ever got an explanation from CCS why their neighborhood was the prime location for the building.

“The only criteria that we have been able to come up with is they received this property for free if they build on it in four years,” he said.

Collins recommended five other parcels of land that could be bought and built on.

l Seventh Avenue and Warren l Fifteenth and Callow Avenue

l Fifteenth and Wycoff

l Eleventh and Wycoff

l Sixth and Montgomery

Dennis Hunthausen summarized CCS’s plans for the facility, vowing that no criminal would be allowed on the premises.

He said the men could determine their length of stay anywhere from a minimum of a few weeks to a maximum of two years.

“We see a variety of periods of residency,” he said.

Driscoll asked Hunthausen if the shelter would replace the current HOST program, where homeless men are circulated through about 15 local churches.

He said that was yet to be determined.

The hearing examiner is required to hear any case which requires a special use permit, according to City Attorney Roger Lubovich.

The examiner is a contracted, legally trained judge for the city of Bremerton. They are chiefly responsible for code enforcement and land use decisions.

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