News

Families protest housing facility

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

The legal battle against a potential transitional housing facility for sex offenders in Peasley Canyon will be waged on the lawn of a family who for years has had the best playground in the neighborhood.

Six years ago, the Ziccarellis bought a swingset and installed it on their lawn. Five years ago they did some maintenance work on it.

Four years ago, they filed documents with the Federal Way school district to homeschool their three children and to participate in a homeschool co-op group with 25 other families.

Last Thursday night, they showed representatives from the state Department of Social and Health Services all the records to prove it.

“We’ve homeschooled our three children for the past four years,” Lisa Ziccarelli said Thursday night before an audience of more than 1,000 people gathered at a community meeting in the Green River Community College gym. “Our playground has been in existence over six years. Our yard is known as a playground to many children. And it’s right across the street from the proposed sex offender site.”

In fact, Lisa’s husband, Mike, demonstrated on a video shown at the community meeting that the site is 320 feet from their home.

“It couldn’t have been the Legislature’s intent not to protect legally recognized home schools,” Lisa Ziccarelli said.

Auburn civil rights attorney Yvonne Ward agreed, and said grassroots activists with a community group called Concerned Citizens of Auburn and Federal Way are willing to take their argument all the way to court.

The Ziccarellis’ home school and playground are the crux of the Concerned Citizens’ case, she said, because the state can’t discriminate against home schools — court cases have shown that over the years — and because the Legislature never specified what kinds of playgrounds are protected — which means they all are.

“We cannot fathom the Legislature did not intend to protect all children equally,” Ward said.

“The Legislature did not modify the word playground, which means it applies to all playgrounds,” she added. “It was clearly a legislative intent that playgrounds must be a risk activity where you will not put sexually violent predators.”

Federal Way Mayor Jeanne Burbidge, who spoke on behalf of the city of Federal Way in opposition to the facility, said Concerned Citizens presented “an excellent argument. I think we have an excellent case.”

Still, whether the argument was enough to convince the state remains to be seen. As it stands, the law as drafted and passed by the Legislature does not include home schools in the list of protected sites.

Ward said Concerned Citizens will continue gathering evidence pertaining to land use and buildability issues to present at the next public hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled yet.

And she remains optimistic about their case.

“We find it’s clear under the law,” she said. “We hope DSHS agrees, but, if not, we believe we’ll be successful in court.”

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