The battle over plans for a controversial homeless shelter in East Lawrence may not be over yet.
City commissioners at their meeting tonight will be asked to rezone the property near 19th Street and Haskell Avenue, which has been purchased by The Salvation Army for a new homeless shelter and service center.
The rezoning - part of the Burroughs Creek Corridor Plan - would create questions about whether The Salvation Army would have to go through a new approval process for its $3.5-million center. Salvation Army leaders don't want to take that chance.
"We're not in favor of the rezoning at all," said Wesley Dalberg, Lawrence administrator for the organization. "We purchased the property in good faith. We have said all along what we intend to do with it. For someone to change the rules at this stage of the game seems unfair."
The proposed corridor plan would change the property's zoning from industrial to office uses. Members of the Burroughs Creek Corridor Plan committee, though, said they believed the new zoning would allow The Salvation Army to continue its plans.
But Sheila Stogsdill, acting director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said that determination hadn't yet been made. She said a full review of the plans and how they would fit into the office zoning requirements would be needed. She said it also was possible the change would require the project receive a special-use permit before it could be built.
A special-use permit would give city commissioners an opportunity to reject the site as an appropriate location for a homeless shelter. In 2004, residents urged commissioners to reject a site plan for the project because they feared it would not be compatible with the neighborhood. But commissioners approved the site plan, in part, because they said the property's existing industrial zoning clearly allowed a shelter.
Michael Almon, a Brook Creek Neighborhood resident and a member of the corridor plan committee, said the committee didn't recommend the rezoning as a way to scuttle the shelter project. Instead, he said the rezoning was needed to ensure the property wouldn't be sold and developed as an industrial site. But if the rezoning results in another hearing for the shelter, that would be fine too.
"As a member of the Brook Creek Neighborhood, I know I would like a little more oversight from the city on this project," Almon said.
The shelter project has been eligible for a building permit for nearly two years. But Dalberg said the project hadn't begun because Salvation Army leaders were still trying to raise money for it. Dalberg said he hoped a fundraising drive would generate the needed $2 million by the end of this year, which would allow construction to begin in 2007.
"I'm still very optimistic that we're going to have a new facility on that piece of property, and that we'll be able to offer expanded services to the community," Dalberg said. "I think the community will get behind it as it learns a little more about it."
The plan also recommends rezoning three other pieces of private property - 824 Garfield St., 827 Garfield St. and 2001 Haskell Ave. Commissioners will consider initiating those rezonings as well. Their meeting begins at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.