Here’s our recap of the Burien Planning Commission Special Meeting held on Thursday, Feb. 15. 2024:

Late in 2023, the Burien City Council voted to establish temporary emergency housing at the Seattle City Light property near Kennedy Catholic High School at SW 136th Street near SR-509. This property – referred to as the Seattle City Light Property – is in a residential neighborhood.

Currently, the city’s Zoning Code (BMC Title 19) does not permit transitional housing in residential zones, including on the Seattle City Light property, which is zoned Single Family Residential (RS-7,200). Therefore, a zoning code amendment is required to permit transitional housing consistent with state law and the motions passed by the Burien City Council on Nov. 27, 2023.

Many people from the community spoke during the Public Comment period of this meeting. The commissioners heard comments for just over an hour before getting into their discussion of the agenda’s hot-button topic: Zoning Code Amendments for a Temporary Emergency Shelter (download the full agenda packet here).

Public Comments

The great majority of speakers came from families of Kennedy Catholic High School students, or others concerned for the safety of the youth and the neighborhood at large. According to commenters, students are concerned that having a tiny home village adjacent to the school will lead to lockdowns, as well as other public safety issues. 

The girls’ cross-country team runs through the neighborhood streets, and it’s claimed that they are already having to dodge around drug paraphernalia and human feces. One runner had a frightening incident involving a man exposing himself, and had to get away from someone who tried to make her get her into a vehicle. Police response has been slow when they are called for these incidents, and students worry about this kind of thing escalating with a sanctioned village. 

One speaker said we’ve been putting the needs of the homeless above those of our kids and other residents. They said people make a lot of money on these deals, and asked whose pockets are getting lined. It was also said that the $1 million dollar budget will not go far with a project like this.

One person said that the King County Regional Homelessness Association (KCRHA) has been a disaster since its inception. They mentioned that everyone working at KCRHA earned six-figure salaries, with the CEO earning $250,000, all while falling behind in payments with contracted service providers.

Another mentioned that she is an advocate for housing and wraparound services for those in need, but only if they are thoroughly planned and well thought-out. This plan leaves too many questions unanswered. One speaker said we are dealing with a mental health and addiction issue, and housing won’t solve it. 

They said that they have seen these camps have a serious negative impact on neighborhoods. One woman said she volunteered to clean up after a camp was recently shut down, and the area was covered with tons of needles and foil everywhere. This is in a camp where drug use was ostensibly prohibited.

A few speakers did advocate for the planned village, saying this will be a structured community, not the same thing as a homeless camp. There will be no tents, just real tiny homes with heating and air conditioning. They said if this is not built, these people will have no choice but to continue living on the streets. It was also mentioned that details about the village can’t be expected at this point; those will be established during a future part of the process.

Another mentioned that the proposed zoning legislation is regarding temporary and emergency housing in any part of the city, not specifically this location. 

One speaker mentioned that she wants to see more people who say, YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) rather than NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) when it comes to helping the homeless. She acknowledged that this kind of change can be scary, but that we are failing as a society and need a variety of creative housing solutions.

Zoning Code Amendments Discussion

Senior Planner Alex Hunt gave a presentation to the Commission on the recommended zoning changes. He explained that Burien’s current zoning code is not in compliance with state requirements, which say that a city shall not prohibit transitional housing or permanent supportive housing in any zones in which resident dwelling units or hotels are allowed,” a state law that covers this location. 

In addition, every city in the county has emergency housing targets assigned to it; Burien needs to plan for 1,433 emergency housing units by 2044. This includes tiny homes as well as shelter beds. Hunt explained that this does not require the city to build these housing units, but just to plan and demonstrate a capacity for them.

The proposed amendments will make Burien’s code consistent with state requirements; in addition:

  • Structures must meet building & fire codes
  • Max residential capacity of 60 people 
  • Minimum 2-acre site size
  • Site owned or leased by a public agency or non-profit
  • 10’ setbacks, 35’ max building height
  • Not in ecologically critical areas or buffer zones

It was also explained that on-site sanitation facilities at the tiny home village, while not yet spelled out in detail, would have to meet requirements for utility hookups. 

The Planning Commission was only discussing the draft at this special meeting. They will hold a Public Hearing on this proposal at a special Feb. 28, 2024 meeting, then send the finalized version along to the Burien City Council who will ultimately make the decision.

Not Complying Could Open City to Lawsuits

Not complying with state law could open the city up to lawsuits, and could also result in the loss of several important revenue streams from the state.


Watch full video of the 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...

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