In April, the Planning Commission denied a permit application for Youth Advocates of Sitka, or Y-A-S, to turn a duplex on Halibut Point Road into a residential shelter for teens and young adults experiencing homelessness and trafficking.
Y-A-S will appeal that decision at the assembly meeting tonight (6-13-23). The assembly would have considered the appeal at a meeting in May, but municipal attorney Brian Hanson asked that they hold off until he could get an outside legal opinion on the case.
The facility, Coastal Haven, has $2 million dollars in federal funding behind it, through Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office. The pilot program would house 12 teens and young adults, providing them with mental health services, wilderness therapy and life skills training. In its appeal, YAS stresses how their project lines up with the goals of the city’s comprehensive plan. They also argue that the decision to deny the permit is a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination when renting or buying a home.
A legal review from an Anchorage law firm found that in denying the permit for the HPR property, the Planning Commission hadn’t presented enough evidence proving that the YAS proposal fell short of the code requirements, and that it had incorrectly characterized dissent from neighbors as unanimous, when the testimony from neighbors was mixed, both for and against the facility. The opinion also called the nature of the testimony into question. It found that neither YAS nor its opponents had presented enough evidence to prove or refute allegations that the facility would generate noise complaints, additional traffic or other disturbances. And the opinion found that, as it stands, the Planning Commission’s decision to deny the permit could be subject to scrutiny under the Fair Housing Act, unless more evidence is provided that supports their decision under city code.
Tonight the assembly will weigh the evidence presented to them during the appeal process before deciding whether to grant or deny the appeal or send it back to the Planning Commission.
The Sitka Assembly meets at 6 p.m. tonight. Raven News will broadcast the meeting live, following Alaska News Nightly.
View the full meeting agenda here