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City Council to put off zoning vote until meeting over shelters

October 02, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A majority of Hagerstown City Council members said Wednesday they would not vote on proposed zoning amendments that could close the REACH Cold Weather Shelter until officials of the city and the shelter meet.

Terri Baker, executive director of REACH, had asked that the council meet with REACH personnel to discuss the proposed zoning changes and how they would affect REACH's ability to provide shelter for the homeless.

Contacted by phone about the request, Council members Carol Moller, Lewis C. Metzner, N. Linn Hendershot and Kristin B. Aleshire agreed that such a meeting should be held.

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Councilwoman Penny May Nigh could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

"It behooves us to sit down with the people with the most experience in that area," agreed Mayor William M. Breichner.

Baker made the request Wednesday during a meeting on homelessness sponsored by the Washington County Community Action Council and the Washington County Task Force on Homelessness. About 20 people, many of them who help out at area shelters, attended the meeting.

Baker said she probably would repeat the request at an Oct. 8 Hagerstown Planning Commission public hearing on proposed zoning amendments that would require shelters to be open 24 hours a day and provide constant supervision.

REACH does not have the money, personnel or resources to operate a 24-hour shelter, Baker said. If those requirements were put in place, the cold weather shelter could not operate, she said.

During Wednesday's meeting, Community Action Council Executive Director Dave Jordan said that, in addition to REACH and the Community Action Council, four other organizations provide shelter space and all could be affected by the proposed changes.

The Planning Commission held a public hearing on the zoning proposal on Aug. 13. At that time, representatives of REACH believed the changes would not affect them, Baker said. REACH supporters asked that a second hearing be held and the commission agreed.

The Hagerstown Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the council regarding the proposed amendment but the decision will be up to the council, Aleshire said.

The proposed zoning change would require a homeless shelter to be at least 1,500 feet from the library's downtown facility and 1,000 feet from an existing homeless shelter.

REACH plans to move into a permanent site next to Christ's Reformed Church on West Franklin Street. While the site is more than 1,500 feet from the library, it is less than 1,000 feet from the Hagerstown Union Rescue Mission shelter.

At the Aug. 13 hearing, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith, Nigh, downtown business leaders and others spoke in favor of the proposed zoning changes, some saying they would help keep the homeless away from downtown and might end problems at the Washington County Free Library.

Scott Hesse, president of Mid-Atlantic System Integrators Inc. at 33 Summit Ave., said he thinks the homeless will come downtown even if the shelter is not downtown because that is where services can be found.

"The homeless people are not going to leave downtown. They do not have the resources to leave. That is why they are homeless," Hesse said.

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