Volley and return: Commissioners to reconsider transitional housing issue

Kathleen Ellyn/ChieftainNeal Isley of Point of Connection Ministry explains his program for Transformational Housing to a crowd of about 50 Wallowa County Residents at a meeting held in the summer of 2016.

Wallowa County Commissioners will take another look at Point of Connection Ministry president Neal Isley’s request for a conditional use permit to establish transitional housing.

Isley’s plan is to accommodate up to four recently released nonviolent offenders. His building, the former Youth Center on Highway 82 between Joseph and Enterprise, is in a rural nonresidential zone.

Isley originally took in parolees in answer to an unofficial request from county probation officers in 2015. Wallowa County Probation Officer Kyle Hacker said the additional oversight a faith-based program provides can benefit parolees.

“Isley’s idea is more hands-on than a county facility (would be),” Hacker said. Hacker also reported that he had at least 45 individuals he would put in a transitional housing facility immediately were it available.

Isley requestedpermission to allow his church to operate the facility to the Wallowa County Planning Commission May 31, 2016. He also scheduled a public meeting at the Community Connection banquet room in Enterprise to address concerns of residents.

Most of the individuals who attended that meeting were in favor of transitional housing for parolees, but some had serious concerns, from declining property values to personal safety.

Fears were expressed that serious offenders would be “shipped in,” and that Isley was not qualified to handle the personal, addiction or mental health issues parolees might exhibit.

Isley said the program would focus on life skills and coping mechanisms in addition to providing a safe place away from situations or individuals that served as triggers for bad behavior. Parolees would be required to take urine tests three times a week, pledge to work toward positive changes and assist in upkeep of the grounds.

The planning commission eventually denied Isley’s request on the grounds that his building was not zoned for the intended use and that a more appropriate location for transitional housing could be chosen.

Wallowa County Commissioners upheld the initial denial at an Aug. 15 appeal hearing.

Isely has since appealed his case to the Land Use Board of Appeals. The board was created to simplify the appeal process, speed resolution of land use disputes and provide consistent interpretation of state and local land use laws. The tribunal is the first of its kind in the United States.

County commissioners asked to have that appeal remanded –– brought back for another look. A motion for a voluntary remand can be filed at any time during the appeal process as long as both parties agree.

The land use board issued the remand April 4.

The next hearing, when set, will be a de novo (starting from the beginning) judicial review, which is used in questions of how the law was applied or interpreted, according to Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts. Such a review does not place weight on the previous finding and can reverse an initial decision.

“We won’t rediscuss things that have been presented before,” Roberts said.

No date for the public hearing has been set as lawyers are exchanging documents, Roberts said.

“The Wallowa County planning commission no longer has a part to play in the decision because the legal involvement puts the issue in the commissioners’ court,” said Roberts.

Isley is represented by land use attorney Michael Robinson of Portland. Paige Sully of Enterprise and Ronald Yockim, of Roseburg, represent the county.

If the decision goes against Isley, he can appeal once again to land use board.



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