Here’s our recap of the Burien Planning Commission meeting held on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024:

Many members of the public showed up to comment during the public hearing on proposed zoning code amendments. These changes would be necessary to allow the planned tiny home village to be built adjacent to Kennedy Catholic High School. While the City Council specifically intended the Planning Commission to address this lot, which is owned by Seattle City Light, any zoning code changes will be effective citywide.

In addition, state law now requires cities to allow for transitional housing in any areas zoned either residential or for hotels. Cities must demonstrate that they have the capacity for transitional housing to be built.

Public Comments

Commenters were by and large against a tiny home village being located anywhere near a school. They also worried about how rules of conduct at the camp would be enforced. It was mentioned that once this village gets built, it will draw more homeless people to the area, and need more funds down the road. Many speakers complained that information was not provided to them by the city regarding this project. Even some people who live within 500 feet of the location, who were supposed to receive information by mail, said they had heard nothing from the city.

One neighbor of the former Oasis Home Church homeless camp said that the neighborhood really started seeing problems when the camp became “low-barrier,” allowing anyone to stay regardless of criminal record. Another neighbor said he has lived all over the country, and Burien is the first place he doesn’t feel comfortable walking around his neighborhood. Others said they want to be able to retire and feel secure in their community. Students said they should be able to feel safe in their school, and that they already have issues with the homeless getting inside their fenced parking lot.

It was mentioned that Burien has 20 years to demonstrate the capacity for additional transitional housing. They said the city has done enough in this regard for the moment with facilities like Mary’s Place, Mercy Housing, and the DESC. Many speakers mentioned wanting to help people experiencing homelessness, but that this was the wrong way to deal with addiction and mental health issues. One said that this project was just virtue signaling by public leaders, and would not actually solve the problem.

A mother of students at Kennedy spoke in support of zoning changes that would allow the tiny homes to be built near the school. Another mother of three small kids who lives in the neighborhood said her family would welcome residents of the tiny home village with open arms. She asked, what are we protecting our children from? She implored everyone to stop conflating being homeless with being a criminal. Others said the city can’t afford a lawsuit, and that it needs to amend the code to become compliant with the state law now.

It was also brought up that a tiny home village is not the same thing as a tent encampment, and no tents would be allowed. One proponent of tiny homes said the examples they have seen are in spotless condition, and a lack of accurate information is creating fear and turning the community against them. Another speaker said a tiny home burned up last year when the inhabitant was using drugs inside. They wondered how many inhabitants would overdose inside their tiny homes.

Both the principal and vice principal of Kennedy spoke, sharing their frustration with not being a part of the conversation with the city on this decision that would affect their students, despite asking to be involved and informed all along. They said the whole process has not given them faith that the tiny home village will be in anyone’s best interest. In addition, it could impact salmon habitat. No environmental impact study has been done for the location, which is adjacent to a salmon stream. They also asked why the tiny home village would receive an exemption to the tree credit.

One speaker mentioned that bars and dispensaries are not allowed within a certain distance of schools, and the code should prohibit transitional housing for the homeless so close to schools. One woman mentioned that she had been to tiny home villages that her homeless sister resided at. She said these places are not effectively controlled, with residents in possession of both guns and drugs.

Zoning Code Discussion

Commissioner Jessica Ivey brought language taken from zoning code amendments recently passed in Bellevue, to consider adding to Burien’s code. In their code, Bellevue was able to address public safety issues and exclude transitional housing services from being within 1000 feet of schools, parks, and childcare centers. 

Following Bellevue’s code, Commissioner Ivey wanted to designate a smoking area, require site cleanliness, prohibit outdoor fires, require a sink with running water at any cooking area, and the means to keep perishable foods cold. However, it was pointed out that these details are not necessarily the purview of the Planning Commission, who can only make recommendations on how the land is zoned, not how programs operate. The city’s building and fire codes will be in effect in any transitional housing.

Commissioner Jimmy Matta Jr. mentioned that any code changes would affect all of Burien, not just this lot owned by Seattle City Light. He said he did not feel the commission had enough time to pass something like this without more legwork and research into its implications. Others agreed, saying this push feels reactionary, and that they should work with nearby cities facing the same state requirements. 

Amended Zoning Code Approved

It was agreed in the end that the code should be amended to comply with state requirements, but changes were made that will effectively exclude the City Light property. Commissioner Sam Osterman was a “No” vote on these recommendations, and Commission Chair Shelli Park abstained.

The code changes that will be recommended to the Burien City Council include the following:

Transitional housing will be permitted in all residential zones as per state requirements and:

  • Be situated on a minimum ½ acre lot
  • Maximum lot size 2 acres
  • Lot owned or leased by a public and/or non-profit agency, including religious organizations
  • Adhere to all applicable fire and safety codes
  • Maximum capacity of 30 individual occupants
  • Individuals under age 18 not permitted without a parent or guardian
  • Minimum setback of 10’ from property lines
  • Maximum structure height of 35’
  • No development within critical areas or their buffers
  • Exempt from tree credit requirements
  • Exempt from parking minimum requirements
  • 6’ fence, wall, or shrubbery installed along non-street perimeter to provide screening 
  • Not more than one in operation in Burien at any time
  • Be within ½ mile of a public transit stop
  • Site inspection by the Human Services Department prior to operation, followed by quarterly inspections
  • Operator shall provide management, maintenance, referrals to service providers, sanitation, and liability insurance.

Good Neighbor Policy

In addition, the Commission agreed to discuss recommending the formation of a Good Neighbor Policy. Other cities are utilizing this tool to create more community involvement and understanding regarding transitional housing developments. They help to foster communication, address issues that arise, and discuss operational commitments of the homeless services. Neighborhood involvement in these services have been a key to their success. This will be discussed at the next Planning Commission meeting.


Watch full video of this meeting here.

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors...

4 replies on “Amended Zoning Code approved by Burien Planning Commission at Wednesday’s meeting”

  1. So, the City Light property won’t be used as a tiny home village because of fears and misperceptions? Will Burien ever address the issue of the unhoused in a caring manner?

  2. The drug addicts need to get help to detox, the able bodied need to get jobs, and the criminals need to go to jail. No one in America needs. tiny home to sit in all day.

  3. It’s interesting you feel the so called unhoused are more important that the rest of the citizens in Burien, the focus needs to be on the neighboring residents affected, not the transients and their backers manipulated by the Homeless Industrial Complex.

  4. The only fire in a tiny home village occurred last year in Seattle when a resident brought his e-bike into his tiny home and the battery overheated. Since there are fire extinguishers on every other home in the village, the fire was extinguished within a matter of minutes and no one was hurt. There were absolutely no drugs involved.

Comments are closed.