The Puyallup City Council unanimously passed an emergency moratorium last week to forestall the implementation of a new state law that makes it more difficult for cities to prohibit homeless shelters.

Development Services director Jeff Wilson told council in a July 20 meeting that the moratorium would allow city staff time to write codes to meet state law.

“Our goal and effort is to work within that time frame as much as possible. It’s not to forgo or try to counter the legislation,” Wilson said. “We want to make sure we have the time to do the vetting in our code before we bring something back to you.”

The state Legislature passed a bill this year, House Bill 1220, that prohibits cities from excluding transitional housing, supportive housing and emergency housing in multifamily residential zones.

The bill states that effective Sept. 30, no city code shall ban indoor shelters in zones where hotels are allowed.

The council approved an 180-day moratorium on implementing the state law, during which staff could review city code. Wilson told The News Tribune he hopes the city can make the changes by the September deadline, but the moratorium is a backup plan if there are delays.

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Some people spoke out against the moratorium. Ric Rose, who sits on the board of directors for Homeward Bound, quoted from the Municipal Resource and Service Center in public comment of the meeting. He said that a moratorium cannot be used to comply with the new state law. City Attorney Joe Beck contested that interpretation.

Council members insisted the moratorium was not intended to skirt state law.

“This council is committed to have positive solutions to help in this area, and this is not about dragging our feet because we want a positive outcome,” Council member Robin Farris said.

The new state law could impact one controversial law Puyallup passed in 2018. Beck told The News Tribune that the zoning code is the city’s main focus in its review.

In September 2018, Puyallup passed a law that restricted homeless centers to 41 parcels in the northwest corner of the city, where many manufacturing and distribution centers are located.

Homeward Bound, a nonprofit organization that parents New Hope Resource Center in Puyallup, challenged the law through the Growth Management Hearings Board. The board initially sided with the nonprofit.

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Puyallup revised the code in 2019 to include 191 parcels and, at the board’s direction, include areas more easily accessible by pedestrians and public transit.

The board deemed the changes to be sufficient, but Homeward Bound appealed to the Washington state Court of Appeals on July 9. A hearings date has yet to be set.

Beck said the state law on zoning for shelters is “squishy,” and it’s unclear what conditions can be placed on shelter projects.

During the 180 days, staff plan to review code and start the process for changes if needed. Making changes to the city code requires Planning Commission hearings and approval, City Council hearings and approval, and an environmental review, Wilson said.

The city is not aware of any projects for shelters or homeless services in the process of applying for permits with the city, but if there is a new application for one submitted during the moratorium, the city would process it, Beck said.

The state law also prohibits transitional housing restraints, but Beck said the city doesn’t have concerns over that portion of the law.

“That has never been a huge issue in Puyallup, because we don’t have restrictive zoning when it comes to transitional housing,” he said. “We will check as we are doing the other work, but it does not seem at first glance that’s of concern.”

The emergency moratorium also requires a public hearing within 60 days of the vote for the public to share their thoughts.