Lawrence Community Shelter site plan ( .PDF )
Leaders of the local homeless shelter did not win the big victory they had hoped for Monday night as Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioners declined to act on plans for a new shelter in eastern Lawrence.
On a 6-4 vote, commissioners late Monday said they weren’t yet convinced that plans by the Lawrence Community Shelter to build a new 125-bed shelter at the former Don’s Steakhouse site on East 23rd Street wouldn’t negatively impact the surrounding area.
“I think there is a lot of work that still needs to be done,” said Planning Commission Chairman Greg Moore. “A lot more work in terms of this management plan needs to be done.”
The deferral was exactly what leaders of the Community Shelter had asked planners not to do. The shelter hopes to move from its current location at 10th and Kentucky streets in downtown, and had hoped to close on the former Don’s Steakhouse property in early December. Shelter leaders said they had hoped to go before Lawrence city commissioners for final approval in early December so that they could begin an approximately $3 million fundraising campaign for the project.
Now, it appears the earliest the Planning Commission may hear it again is in January, with perhaps city commissioners hearing it in February.
Commissioners took the action after hearing from a divided public. Several residents expressed concerns about how the shelter would deal with homeless people walking through their neighborhoods and potential safety issues. Several homeless advocates and some neighbors near the site supported the proposal, saying the fact that the property was not immediately adjacent to residential property made it better than most sites.
Planning commissioners also were divided.
“There isn’t an island we can put this on,” said Commissioner Hugh Carter. “These are concerns we’re going to have to deal with, and we can.”
A majority of commissioners, though, said they wanted the shelter’s leadership to do more on a management plan that would show how the shelter would address issues — everything from foot traffic through neighborhoods to panhandling along 23rd Street — before they would consider approving a necessary rezoning and special use permit.
Commissioners also said they were concerned with a staff recommendation that a special use permit for the property be granted for a 15-year period. Most special use permits last for five years or less.
Loring Henderson, executive director of the shelter, said Monday’s actions did not kill the project, but does add serious complications to the project’s fundraising efforts. Henderson said that a reduction in the 15-year duration of the permit would be very damaging to fundraising efforts because many foundations would not be comfortable giving money to the project unless it had a long-term commitment to stay on the site.
Commissioners Carter, Jeff Chaney, Richard Hird and Kenzie Singleton voted against the deferral. Commissioners Moore, Charles Blaser, Lisa Harris, Brad Finkeldei, Charlie Dominguez and Stanley Rasmussen voted for the deferral.