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MOUNT VERNON — An ordinance allowing for safe parking for the homeless is working its way through the Mount Vernon City Council.

As written, the draft ordinance would allow for a religious organization to house up to 12 people in five cars on their premises overnight for 180 days. The organization would have to register with the city, provide outdoor bathrooms and create a neighborhood relation plan.

However, several council members pushed to make the ordinance less restrictive at Wednesday’s Development Services committee meeting.

Councilman Mark Hulst questioned the 180-day limit, saying he didn’t see a reason the service couldn’t be offered year-round.

“As long as they aren’t impacting the community, I don’t see a reason why we shouldn’t have a mechanism to give them additional 180 days,” he said.

He also questioned staff’s decision to restrict safe parking programs to 7 p.m. to 8 a.m., saying this would make it harder for a church to serve dinner or perform some other kind of outreach with the residents.

Council members Mary Hudson and Richard Brocksmith both asked why the program would be restricted to religious organizations and requested the ordinance allow for nonprofits to also host.

Brocksmith went on to question the requirement for outdoor bathrooms, rather than allowing them to use bathrooms inside host facilities.

Senior Planner Rebecca Lowell said this would require someone to be present in the building at all times per the city’s fire safety regulations.

Lowell said she would amend the ordinance to allow for extensions to the 180-day limit and for an earlier opening time.

The council would consider taking emergency action as early as next Wednesday’s council meeting, meaning the ordinance would be effective immediately after passage.

Lowell said the city would be required to hold a public hearing within 60 days and would have to either pass a permanent ordinance within six months or approve a six-month extension.

She said the council’s other requests could be considered once work starts on a permanent ordinance.

Despite the emergency ordinance, it’s unclear whether any organizations will come forward to offer their space.

Mayor Jill Boudreau said thus far that no religious organizations have come forward to ask to participate in this program.

However, representatives from the Mount Vernon Seventh-Day Adventist Church previously asked the city to consider passing an ordinance like this. For the past two years, that church has partnered with the county and Friendship House to run a winter shelter.

— Reporter Brandon Stone: bstone@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2112, Twitter: @Brandon_SVH

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