Southwest Lawrence residents Tuesday were left to wait and wonder whether a controversial downtown homeless shelter will move into a vacant nursing home in their neighborhood.
A short-handed City Commission split 2-2 on whether to give the Lawrence Community Shelter $50,000 to secure an option to purchase the former Lake View Nursing Home, 3015 W. 31st St. City Commissioner Sue Hack was absent from the five-member commission, which led commissioners to defer the item and allow Hack to bring the issue back up in two weeks if she desires to do so.
Commissioners may have been split on the issue, but audience members at City Hall were not. Commissioners heard more than a hour's worth of public comment, with the majority of people speaking against the plan.
"I do not want to feel threatened in my own neighborhood," said Susan Carden, a single mother who lives just north of the proposed site. "I think this would raise concerns about the safety of the entire 31st Street corridor."
Neighbors spoke about concerns that the shelter potentially would house drug addicts, create safety concerns for people who use the city bike path that runs along the former nursing home property and make residents uneasy to walk in the area during the early morning or late at night.
City Commissioners Boog Highberger and Mike Rundle, though, said they wanted to move ahead with the project. Neither commissioner gave absolute support for the site, but both said the possibilities were great enough that the city should provide $50,000 to give the nonprofit shelter more time to explore a purchase. Both Highberger and Rundle noted the city still would be able to back out of the deal by denying the necessary permits needed to operate a homeless shelter at the site.
Both commissioners also sought to assure residents that a homeless shelter would not necessarily be a bad neighbor.
"I do understand the concerns that you raised," Highberger said. "I'm not convinced that the clients of the Lawrence Community Shelter are any more of a danger to the general population than any of the rest of us."
Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner David Schauner, though, both balked at spending the $50,000. Both said the shelter proposal did not provide enough specifics about what other commitments the city would have to make in the future.
"We need to be a lot more specific about what our role is going to be," Amyx said.
Loring Henderson, the shelter's director, said he became interested in the building just a few weeks ago after the nursing home closed its doors when regulators pulled its Medicare and Medicaid contracts.
Henderson said the building - able to house 100 people - would give the shelter much-needed space that it doesn't have at its current location at 944 Ky. He also said the move would solve concerns voiced by neighbors of the current site, who have complained about trespassing and loitering problems.
Henderson said he thought those concerns would be reduced at the new site, in part because the nursing home property includes seven acres of land.
Henderson said he wasn't sure what Tuesday's action by city commissioners meant for the proposal. He said he was not particularly optimistic that Hack would cast the swing vote to give the shelter the $50,000 to secure an option.
"My political sense is that it won't come back to the City Commission unless I ask for it again," Henderson said.
Henderson said he would discuss the project with the shelter's board members. He said it was possible that the group could try to quickly raise the $50,000 through private sources.
Henderson had said he would start a public fundraising campaign to try to cover the estimated $2 million purchase price of the property if city commissioners provided the $50,000 in seed money.
Because of the Fourth of July holiday, city commissioners won't meet again until July 11. Hack was out of town and unable to attend Tuesday's meeting. She had been scheduled to be out of town long before the shelter issue was placed on the commission's agenda.