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Council cracks down on group homes for sex offenders

The Federal Way City Council unanimously approved an emergency ordinance that will require group homes for sex offenders or other violators to acquire a business license.

The ordinance will also restrict such homes with zoning requirements. In addition to this, the council approved a six-month moratorium on such businesses/arrangements, in order for the city to "develop a legal framework for restricting these facilities to specific zones."

"We discovered a house in a single family zone that was housing at least as many as seven registered sex offenders, and took immediate actions to close the residence for building code violations," said Mayor Skip Priest during the city council's Sept. 3 meeting. "After hearing from the neighbors that people were living in the house, as of last night, I personally visited the residence, and spoke to the owner, and observed individuals inside. Based on those reports and my observations, law enforcement action will be taken, including possible criminal charges."

According to Priest and other city officials, much of this problem came to light when neighbors noticed building code violations occurring at the residence in the 2800 block of South 284th Street. Among the violations were un-permitted electrical work and additions to the house.

On top of housing sex offenders, the city also discovered that more than the allowable limit of "unrelated" persons in a single-family home — five — had been exceeded.

A large group of residents in the vicinity of the home were on hand for the council's meeting, including Steven Metzenberg. Metzenberg described a situation that left many residents feeling unsafe and unwelcome in their neighborhood.

"Sometimes there were as many as nine sex offenders back there (on a deck at the residence), whistling, causing problems with the citizens behind them," he said. "So much so, that the woman right behind them let her house go back to the bank and moved out with her daughter."

Metzenberg said the residents of the home were not model citizens in the slightest.

"My neighbors were harassed by Level 3 sex offenders in their own backyards or on their own decks," he said. "The offenders would hang over the back deck, swearing, drinking, smoking and leering at the children…Many of (the neighbors) could not even use their backyards or decks."

For neighbor Christy Siegman, the presence of this house and its occupants is a direct threat to the well being of her 10-year-old daughter.

"What is at risk is the innocence of my child, and the young children who are our friends and neighbors," she said. "(If) these guys come back…she's not leaving my yard, she's not going to be in my yard without supervision, and her innocence is gone."

Siegman noted the fact that Level 3 sex offenders, which the residence in question was housing, have the highest rate of recidivism among offenders.

"It's not if — it's 99 percent when — they reoffend," she added.

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell asked how the system works regarding sex offenders and housing and the state Department of Corrections (DOC). Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson said the DOC is more concerned with running a voucher program and tracking the offenders, and spends very little time checking the places the offenders end up calling home.

"The DOC tries to distance itself from actual placement," Wilson said. "They just provide vouchers and then make these different locations available for people."

Ferrell asked if the city has been letting DOC know about these issues, with Wilson replying in the affirmative.

"Very much so. They are aware of this residence and the fact it's not meeting our specific codes and that we are very concerned about placement. They have taken this residence off their 'recommended' list at this point," Wilson said.

 

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