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Saturday, June 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:40 AM

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Judge pulls up the stakes on Woodinville's Tent City

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Tent City 4 was dealt its first major legal defeat on Friday when a King County Superior Court judge ruled that the homeless encampment must leave its temporary home at a Woodinville church by next Saturday.

Judge Charles Mertel said it was with a heavy heart that he made the ruling, which has left the encampment scrambling to find a place to move to, or be forced to disband.

Attorneys representing the Northshore Church of Christ and SHARE/WHEEL, tent city's sponsoring organization, said they plan to appeal the decision early next week.

All sides had been meeting with a mediator through Thursday, but those efforts failed, said Sean Russel, an attorney representing Tent City 4.

"I've looked into the face and eyes of the individuals over the last couple of weeks, and that makes the decision that I'm about to render even more difficult," Mertel said.

Mertel found that Tent City 4 violated its own agreement with the city of Woodinville when it moved onto the Northshore United Church of Christ's site without following permit procedure.

Tent city and Woodinville officials came to an agreement after its 2004 stay on city-owned land that it wouldn't move back to the city without allowing time to process a land-use permit. Woodinville officials also contended that tent city couldn't even apply for a permit because the church sits on land that is under a building moratorium. Mertel ruled that moratorium was valid.

Tent city residents said they were saddened by the ruling, which forces them to move by midnight next Saturday, and are searching for a new site.

Bruce Thomas, a tent city resident and the camp's adviser, said the encampment provided security and shelter to more than 60 people, and without it, many could end up in dangerous situations on the street.

"This is the only safety we have," Thomas said. "It doesn't have to be a church that offers us land, it could be someone with a big backyard, or a multiple-unit apartment building. All we need is their dirt."

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Pete Rose, Woodinville city manager, said residents deserve to have due process when land users such as Tent City 4 consider moving into a community. He was pleased that the ruling will help restore balance to the city's land-use procedures and policies.

Rose said he hopes that cities would come together to work on addressing homelessness and participate in the King County Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.

"The city does not take joy in the ruling forcing the movement or closure of the homeless encampment in as much as they have developed a safe sheltering template that may be disrupted," Rose said.

The Rev. Sanford Brown, executive director for the Church Council of Greater Seattle, which has been working with Tent City 4, said the ruling was a violation of religious rights and federal laws that allow churches to use their property for purposes such as ministering to the poor.

"We think this is a miscarriage of justice," Brown said.

Earlier this week Bothell announced that it has received a permit application from the First Evangelical Lutheran Church to host Tent City 4 beginning about Aug. 12.

Unfortunately, the church can't host the encampment any sooner because Bothell requires time to process the permit request, said First Evangelical Pastor Marillyn Schultz Rothermel.

"As soon as we get our permit, we'll tell them to set up their tents," Schultz Rothermel said. "They're welcome at our place."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

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