City zoning law doesn't mention shelter

June 29, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Hagerstown's zoning law does not mention homeless shelters.

The city's interpretation of the Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless (REACH) cold weather shelter is that it's an "accessory use" to a church.

Without a permanent home, the shelter rotates among the local synagogue and several churches, staying two weeks at each place.

An accessory use is defined in the zoning code as "A use or structure on the same lot or adjacent lot under the same ownership with and of a nature customarily incidental and subordinate to the principle use or structure."

Stephen R. Bockmiller, a zoning administrator for the city, said it is not a perfect fit, but a shelter and a church go together because of the "good deeds" and aid they each offer.


"Part of our job is to fill in the gaps" in the zoning code, he said.

REACH proposed buying a building at 35 E. Washington St. for a permanent shelter. However, a shelter would not be a listed use at that property, Hagerstown Planning Director Kathy Maher said.

Instead, REACH appears set to move permanently into the former Cannon Shoe Factory on West Franklin Street after working out a deal on Wednesday with Christ's Reformed Church, which owns the building, REACH Director Terri Baker said.

Last week, David Jordan, executive director of Washington County Community Action Council, pored through a copy of the zoning law, searching for a commercial zone permitted use that would cover shelters.

He settled on "Hospitals, sanitoriums or charitable institutions for human care and the treatment of noncontagious diseases and nursing homes."

However, Maher said the zoning law is "very specific. If it's not listed, it's not permitted."

Besides, in the newest version of the zoning code, which was amended April 24, the last phrase was removed.

The new definition, she said, is "Hospitals and nursing and residential care facilities."

Maher said recent talk about the REACH shelter has led city officials to consider whether a shelter should be specifically defined in the code.

"It has brought up an issue that needs to be discussed," she said.

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