BELLINGHAM - City staff will soon decide if a proposed 16-bedroom facility for prisoners who are given work release but remain under supervision could be built in the Sehome neighborhood.
The facility would go in at 1125-27 N. Garden St., on the same lot as an existing work release house operated by the nonprofit Community Work Training Association.
Cynthia Bach, who owns the neighboring house with her husband, Troy, said she is worried about the possible effects of expanding the facilities, such as possible damage to property values, parking problems, harassment and second-hand smoke.
"With a 50-foot buffer between ours and the current building, the feel of it is so much different from having an additional building about 15 feet away," Bach said. "It's our rental property next door and we disclose what's going on. ... We've had issues with visitors to that site parking in our tenant parking and walking through the yard."
Another neighbor who has lived across the street from the site for 14 years wrote to the city to say she passes the house when she walks downtown every day and has never had negative interactions with residents or visitors there.
The hearing examiner will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, in City Council chambers, 210 Lottie St., before the city makes a final decision on a permit.
The building could not serve as a work release house without legislative approval and staffing from the Department of Corrections.
The building would house up to 25 male and female offenders, total, in a supervised program, the same number the current facility houses, said Ali Taysi of AVT Consulting. AVT is the firm helping owner Mike Hays of Hammer Properties Northwest apply for permits for the new building.
Hays owns many of the surrounding properties and rents them mostly to college students. He had planned to build another multi-family building there before learning more about the program.
"It's a lower cost to the state to have (offenders) in a halfway house," Hays said. "The likelihood for them to recommit is also lower. We want them to have better opportunities."
All of the residents are within six months of their prison release and have been awarded minimum security status by the Department of Corrections. Their applications for work release are screened by a committee that includes a police officer, they are not allowed to own or drive cars or, as of Aug. 1, to smoke at the house, which has video surveillance and 24-hour staff, said Karen Stoos, who manages the current facility.
The current building, which has operated as a work-release home since 1983, is one of 16 work-release homes in the state. The next-closest home is in Snohomish County. Eligible inmates are typically placed in work release based on their home counties, Stoos said.
The public hearing is the final opportunity for people to comment before a decision is made. Written comments can be sent to city planner Jackie Lynch at firstname.lastname@example.org before the hearing.