City commissioners are slowing down on plans to give the Lawrence Community Shelter nearly $80,000 in funding to purchase a new site for a homeless shelter.
Commissioners had been scheduled to consider at their meeting tonight a request for $78,789 in Community Development Block Grant money to help purchase the former Don’s Steak House building, 2176 E. 23rd St.
But late Monday afternoon, the city announced it was deferring that discussion until probably December, when the shelter site is expected to come before the commission for necessary land-use approvals.
The deferral came after a Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioner raised objections to the city considering the funding request before it considers the rezoning and special-use permit that will be required for a shelter to operate at the site.
“Giving them $80,000 is simply a de facto agreement that the shelter should be built out there,” said Charlie Dominguez, who is both a planning commissioner and a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority Board.
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he did not view it that way. He said the commission likely would have approved the funding with a variety of contingencies. He said the city originally was looking to move forward with the funding issue because there was some concern the money needed to be allocated quickly, because it was money the city received through the federal stimulus program.
“Eventually, we realized there wasn’t necessarily a drop-dead date in terms of a time constraint,” Chestnut said.
The funding request has made two appearances on the city’s agenda. The issue originally was on the commission’s Oct. 6 consent agenda, which is normally reserved for matters that are considered routine and do not require discussion. The issue was deferred after Dominguez objected. It then was placed on tonight’s meeting before it was deferred once again.
The nearly $80,000 is a relatively small portion of the purchase price of the former restaurant. Loring Henderson, director of the shelter, said his organization has the property under contract for $580,000.
In a letter to the City Commission, Dominguez also was critical of the management of the current shelter, which is at 10th and Kentucky streets. He said the shelter serves too many people who do not have ties to the Douglas County community.
Henderson has disputed that claim, saying past numbers have showed about 75 percent of all people served have previously lived in Douglas County before coming to the shelter. But city officials have said it can be difficult for the shelter to verify residency claims.