Planning Commission next stop for Housing Hope project at Norton
Historical Commission votes no 6-2
EVERETT — On Sept. 15, the city’s planning commission will discuss Housing Hope’s proposal to build affordable housing at the Norton Playfield site in the Port Gardner Neighborhood.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.
Housing Hope is asking to clip the boundaries of the Norton-Grand historic overlay zone to remove the protectionary overlay from the eastern portion of the site to be able to build its project as designed.
The city’s Historical Commission voted 6-2 against this at a late August hearing, and forwarded a recommendation to the planning commission to not reduce the historic overlay.
The commissioners spoke with concern on what precedent would be made on historic overlays if a general developer asked for the same reduction.
Housing Hope proposes 44 units in a cluster of three-story townhomes in the back, and seven single-family houses fronting Norton Avenue on 2.96-acres.
The Everett School District is leasing the site to Housing Hope to exclusively house formerly homeless families with schoolchildren in the district.
Numerous people gave public comments. Most conveyed concerns about building heights and neighborhood impact at the Historical Commission meeting.
“We’re highly concerned about the possibility of the density coming across the street from us,” neighbor Andrea Murat said. “It’s not a matter of whether or not there be housing for the homeless, which this seems to have turned into (as) a play on our emotions, but the density and quality of life for people who have put their entire livelihoods into this area.”
The Historical Commission’s role was to evaluate whether to approve the zoning change for a multifamily project and not judge the merits of the tenants, city interim planning director David Stalheim told the Historical Commission.
Density is not Housing Hope’s basis for asking to remove the overlay, Stalheim said.
Historical Commissioner Patrick Hall said he’d support changing the overlay “given the extenuating circumstances.” Commissioner Dave Ramstad supported the project on its benefits for children.
Historical Commissioner Tom Feeney said there are ways for the project to work within the overlay’s existing parameters for height.
“This is a neighborhood under threat with this project,” said commissioner Jack O’Donnell, adding “it’s a very bad idea to upzone property for this.”
Commissioner Steve Fox echoed concerns about setting a precedent on reducing historical overlays. He added: “This is putting a lot of density into this neighborhood.”
Commissioner Amy Hieb said she supports the kids, but changing an overlay for a project creates “a really bad precedent.”
“I think it’s a false choice between being in favor of housing homeless kids and needing to reduce the overlay to meet that goal,” Hieb said.
The City Council will have the final say. The Planning Commission’s role is to potentially make a recommendation for the council.
The Historic Commission’s meeting is on YouTube, look for “Everett Historical Commission Meeting Video: Aug. 25, 2020.”