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Planners shelve shelter proposal

October 30, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown Planning Commission on Wednesday voted to withdraw from further consideration controversial proposed zoning changes placing restrictions on homeless shelters.

"It was not worthy of considering," Chairman Douglas Wright said after the meeting. "We were headed in the wrong direction."

The proposed amendments would have required shelters to be open 24 hours a day and to provide constant supervision.

Officials of REACH, which runs a shelter that is open at night during the winter months, have said they do not have the money, personnel or resources to abide by the proposals should they be adopted.

Nobody from REACH - Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless - was at the meeting.

Community Action Council Executive Director David Jordan, who was present, said he was pleased by the planning commission's action. At a minimum, the vote will provide time for REACH and city officials to meet and discuss the matter, he said.

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Jordan serves on the Washington County Task Force on Homelessness.

The planning commission took the action without discussion at Wednesday's meeting.

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

At an Oct. 8 public hearing, about 20 people spoke against the proposed changes.

During the hearing Edward Kuczynski, the attorney representing REACH, said the amendments appear to violate laws protecting residents and churches.

The proposed zoning change would have required homeless shelters to be at least 1,500 feet from the library's downtown facility and 1,000 feet from any 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.

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