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Homeless question tabled

July 09, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown City Council discussion on Tuesday about whether changes should be made to zoning laws to address future homeless shelters within city limits reached no clear consensus, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said.

City staff will do more research on the issue and meet with officials of groups that aid the homeless, Planning Director Kathleen A. Maher said.

The city's current zoning ordinance does not permit a homeless shelter as a stand-alone use, Maher said. A homeless shelter would be permissible only as an accessory use to a property such as a church, she said.

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She asked council members to let planners know whether they want a change in the zoning rules and in what zoning districts the council wants homeless shelters to be permitted uses.

Only Councilman Kristin Aleshire provided specific suggestions, saying homeless shelters only should be allowed as an accessory use and only in commercially zoned districts.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said he would like to approach this issue "backwards": He wants someone to suggest where a homeless shelter should be built and then the city can examine those suggestions.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh suggested there were more homeless people who are not Washington County residents than homeless advocates say.

At one point, Nigh mentioned that Montgomery County has services to help the homeless.

"Please put this in the newspaper: 'Montgomery County homeless, go back - they now have a place for you,'" Nigh said.

The issue arose at a June 10 council meeting when the council was told that REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - appealed a request to put a permanent homeless shelter on property zoned commercial at 35 E. Washington St. City officials said they thought the shelter was moving into a building on West Franklin Street next to Christ's Reformed Church.

REACH Executive Director Terri Baker said the Washington Street property, which later was sold to another buyer, was considered as a backup plan in case negotiations with the church fell through.

Since then REACH and Christ's Reformed Church have reached a tentative agreement to open a permanent homeless shelter on the third floor of the building next to the church, Baker said.

The REACH board is to vote on the matter on July 14.

The REACH shelter, which operates in the winter months, currently moves from church to church.

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