Halfway houses for sex offenders and violent felons is one step closer to being illegal in Puyallup residential neighborhoods, after the council approved the first reading of an ordinance amending city code on Tuesday.
The ordinance would prohibit two or more sex offenders and violent felons from living under the same roof in Puyallup's residential zones. The law does allow for halfway houses in the city's central business core, if the landowner goes through the proper permitting process.
"We're breaking new ground with this," said Mayor Rick Hansen.
The ordinance identifies a ‘violent felon’ as someone who has been convicted of residential burglary, second-degree burglary, first degree malicious mischief and first degree theft.
The council wavered on whether or not violent offenders should be included in the housing restrictions but decided to pass the first reading of the ordinance and discuss the issue further.
Councilman John Palmer said there are "pros and cons" to "casting such a wide net," and Councilman John Knutson encouraged the council to consider narrowing the definition to sex offenders only.
"Murderers, rapists and [thieves] are all threats to the general public," said deputy city attorney Steve Kirkelie. "When you tread on new ground, it's always helpful to have a narrow and focused approach on one particular group. When you have more people that you are regulating as a government, that's a wider net of people who won't like what you're doing."
Under the proposed ordinance, a property owner interested in housing multiple sex offenders or violent felons would have to submit and receive a conditional use permit (CUP) before allowing two or more to live together.
The city would not issue a CUP if a similar permit has already been issued for another dwelling within 880 feet. The CUP process requires a public hearing before the hearing examiner and allows Puyallup leaders to seek conditions that address public safety and welfare.
The ordinance also would add a new chapter to Puyallup's business licensing regulations, allowing the city to impose additional conditions in a business license to address harmful impacts on the community from certain businesses such as airports, hazardous waste facilities, and facilities where two or more sex offenders and violent felons reside.
For example, the city could require a "significant impact business" to provide high amounts of liability insurance, to post a bond, or provide other types of security.
Council members agreed on Tuesday that a business license should be required for shared housing units in Puyallup, for both sex offenders and violent felons.
"A business cannot operate in residential zones, but any property owner is technically operating a business, even though we don’t require them to have a business license," said Kirkelie.
City regulations currently allow up to six unrelated individuals to live together, but there are no specifications on housing for convicted criminals.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 5105 and companion House Bill 1232 that relate to the sex offender voucher program both received public hearings in Olympia last week.
The two bills propose different conditions, however. The House Bill limits the number of sex offenders residing together to three (with exceptions); the Senate legislation recommends eight.
"The mood of the court is not going to allow us to do what we would like to do," said Knutson. "If we use our tools, we have a chance of success."