SoDo site joins list of possibilities for sex-offender house
Seattle Times staff reporter
After looking throughout the state for four years, state officials have zeroed in on a site in Seattle's industrial core for a controversial sex-offender halfway house.
The proposed halfway house in SoDo would sleep up to 12 graduates of Washington's treatment program for sexually violent predators and is one of the most controversial and reviled public facilities in recent history.
But unlike the lawsuits, pre-emptive zoning changes and death threats against state officials triggered by other potential sites, Seattle officials and business owners hesitantly acknowledged the logic of housing sex offenders in an area with thick-forearmed laborers but no child-care facilities.
The Department of Social and Health Services likes the site at 132 S. Spokane St. because it is near the jobs and treatment required for the offenders' rehabilitation plans. It also complies with the Legislature's order to look in urban industrial areas, said DSHS Secretary Dennis Braddock.
"We've always wanted an industrial site, but they're hard to come by and they're expensive," he said. "It's a site that fulfills the expectations of the Legislature and the citizens."
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was less sanguine.
"I'm deeply disappointed with the state's decision to dump violent sexual predators in our city," he said in a statement. But a staffer said the mayor wouldn't "declare war" on DSHS as North Bend did after it was named as a potential site in April.
"We're going to sit down with DSHS on this, to understand their thinking, the security measures, the consequences," said Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis. "We're not taking a hysterical approach. We're going to be very reasoned."
U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer cited DSHS for contempt of court in 1999, in part because the Special Commitment Center's treatment program on McNeil Island lacked a clear release program, including a halfway house for graduates.
Public outcry scuttled other potential sites in Thurston, Walla Walla and Spokane counties before the Legislature in 2001 ordered DSHS to build a house in King County, which has the most predators at the treatment center.
Braddock expects to pick a site in September, in time for DSHS to be back before the federal judge in October. If the process stalls, DSHS faces more than $7 million in court-ordered fines.
DSHS' purchase option for the two-story, 18,500-square-foot warehouse in Sodo is $1.6 million, more than other sites near Kent, Auburn and North Bend. Attorney Henry Liebman bought the building for $1 million in 2001. He could not be reached for comment.
The biggest drawbacks of the site, said business owners, are round-the-clock train whistles, frequent road construction and a nearby bus stop.
"I would be totally backing what they're trying to do (with the Sodo site), if it weren't me who had to move," said Carol Tover, owner of Il Vero Expresso & Deli, one of a handful of businesses currently in the warehouse. "It's a good spot."
Barry Lamb, operations director for a real-estate-appraisal firm next to Tover's deli, agreed.
"I don't think too many people would care during the day, and no one is around at night," he said.
The announcement pleased neighborhoods around DSHS' other potential sites, all of whom have sued.
"It's about time we started looking at the jurisdiction that produced a lot of these predators and has the ability to absorb them better," said Yvonne Ward, an attorney for Auburn homeowners.
Wherever the halfway house is sited, residents will live under constant surveillance. The house will be outfitted with cameras and alarmed doors, and the residents must wear Global Positioning System tracking bracelets and be escorted one on one when they leave for work, therapy or school. Those measures will boost the per-resident cost to about $700,000 a year.
The residents will have graduated from the Special Commitment Center's five-phase treatment program, which takes at least four years. The center currently holds 180 men who were declared to be sexually violent predators by civil juries and detained under mental-health commitment laws after completing prison sentences, usually for serious sex crimes.
The halfway house would be the midpoint of a multiphase release program that ends with increasing levels of freedom. No one has progressed beyond this step since the center was created in 1991.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published July 16, was corrected July 18. The name of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was misspelled in a previous version of this article about a potential site for a sex offender halfway house.
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