Pea Patch to be community services hub and provide ‘supportive housing’

With the purchase of an 11-acre property in Eastsound, three organizations will provide services to residents in one central location.

OPAL Community Land Trust took ownership of 55 Pea Patch Lane in December 2023, financed by donations from community members via the Orcas Island Community Foundation and a Land Acquisition Program loan from Washington State Housing Finance Commission, The sale price was $2.5 million.

In addition to affordable rental apartments, the campus will have new headquarters for the resource center and the food bank, whose facility will include a commercial kitchen and emergency food stores. More than 10% of Orcas Island households live below the poverty line, and 40% do not earn enough to make ends meet.

“The new community campus will include public green space and common areas, like an outdoor plaza for gatherings,” explained Suzanne Olson, the Pea Patch Project Lead. “We expect to broaden the audience for the food bank and the resource center with greater capacity and these common spaces.”

The property is adjacent to the Orcas Christian School, Funhouse Commons, Children’s House, Salmonberry School, Orcas Senior Center and fire department and near more than 80 existing OPAL apartments for low-income households.

A steering committee consisting of board members and staff of the Orcas Island Food Bank, Orcas Community Resource Center and OPAL has been coordinating the endeavor. Although it will be at least three to five years before the entire Pea Patch project is complete, the process for site and building designs is in full swing. This spring, there were eight public meetings to discuss site design with various stakeholders, including neighbors, community members, Spanish speakers and those currently utilizing services from the food bank and OCRC.

Two existing houses on the property are occupied by tenants. OPAL will honor the leases and apply for grants to upgrade the structures. OPAL will build 20 units of rental housing on the north side of the property. Fifteen of the units are earmarked for “supportive housing,” which is for those currently experiencing marginal living situations. Olson notes that it is not transitional housing, and all leases will be long-term and have similar eligibility rules as existing OPAL developments.

“When OPAL finished April’s Grove, there were about 50 people who had very low income and couldn’t afford it. There is a need below the typical low-income housing need. There is a misperception that the Pea Patch housing is just for homeless people. It’s not. It’s for people who are currently unhoused and/or experiencing housing instability,” Olson said. “In some cases, people have been living in places like tents, dry cabins or boats for years by choice and are now aging and uncomfortable. Some of the potential renters may be experiencing housing instability because of corollary issues like mental health issues and substance abuse.”

The resource center will provide supportive housing services that combine housing with comprehensive services to promote stability and well-being among vulnerable individuals and families.

The apartment building will be oriented East to West for maximum solar orientation and to provide privacy for neighboring schools. The road has been located on the west side so there isn’t traffic near facilities with children.

Paul Freedman, Head of School at Salmonberry, is concerned about an influx of people and cars near an area with children’s facilities.

“Since we founded Salmonberry School on our current site in 2001, we have witnessed the construction of the Eastsound Fire Station, the Orcas Senior Center, the Crossroads Cottages and the April’s Grove OPAL development. Now, with this new multi-nonprofit partnership and construction of 20 homes and several larger buildings plus roads and parking on the Pea Patch property, our neighborhood will experience more density and traffic,” he said.

Freedman appreciates that the project aims to address the needs of housing-insecure islanders. He also hopes the impact on existing nonprofits, children, and the elderly will be carefully considered.

“We have concerns about the particular needs of the supportive housing project’s residents and the potential impact given the close physical proximity to the young children of Salmonberry School and Children’s House as well as the Christian School, Funhouse and senior center surrounding this property,” he said. “We wonder about the wisdom of siting this housing adjacent to the children and elderly. We hope that there has been an adequately thorough study of what these residents’ needs will be and if they will receive ample support in the long term. We would hate to inadvertently introduce tensions to the delicate balance of this increasingly dense neighborhood.”

Ady Walker of Children’s House says she was “surprised to learn of the new direction of the Pea Patch project.”

“I attended a community design meeting recently, so I thought I understood the intent and vision for the property. I have requested more information from Opal to share this news with parents. This information is important because the schools need to prepare for the changes to the privacy and security of our campus,” she said.

Olson says OPAL is committed to hearing the community’s feedback.

“I am working closely with the neighbors of the Pea Patch property to understand their needs and concerns and find harmonious solutions that are mutually beneficial,” she said. “For example, Salmonberry and Children’s House have asked for a fence to screen their playgrounds for privacy and safety, and we’ve added that as a priority to our site requirements. The Funhouse has identified parking as an issue, so the site plan concept includes more parking they can use.”

Ryan Carpenter, executive director of the Funhouse, says support for housing, food and resources is “foundational for a thriving community.”

“The Pea Patch Project’s vision for a centralized campus is something our entire community will be proud of. I commend the way in which Opal Commons, the Food Bank and Orcas Island Community Resource Center are working in a collaborative partnership.I am grateful for the design and community listening process they have invited neighborhood organizations and community partners to participate in,” he said.

The collaboration also envisions a solar microgrid to offset most of the campus’s power needs. The project was recently awarded $98,675 from the Washington Department of Commerce’s Climate Commitment Act to conduct a feasibility study. The microgrid would include solar panels on the buildings and battery storage for energy resilience during power disruptions. Work on the feasibility study will begin this fall.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to bring renewable energy savings to our community campus while reducing new demand for power from OPALCO,” said Lisa Steckley, Pea Patch Steering Committee Member and Resource Center Board Member.

Olson hopes the site plan will be finished by the fall and permitting will follow. Ideally, site work will begin in 2025, and construction in 2026.

“Until we have permitting certainty, we can’t get a construction timeline. It’s a work in progress,” she explained. “For these nonprofits to collaborate and pool their resources for the benefit of the whole community, I think that is the remarkable part of the story here.”