Proposed new location for the Lawrence Community Shelter
Efforts to build a new homeless shelter in Lawrence won the largest victory to date — but not a complete victory — just before the stroke of midnight Tuesday.
On a 5-0 vote, Lawrence city commissioners agreed to approve a special use permit for the Lawrence Community Shelter to move to a warehouse building at 3701 Franklin Park Circle near the Douglas County Jail. Commissioners will have the item back on their agenda for a second reading next Tuesday — usually a City Hall formality — but commissioners said they may place several conditions on their approval at that meeting.
But for a night, anyway, Lawrence shelter supporters had gotten further than they ever had before at City Hall.
“There will be places here for families, there will be places here for outside agencies, there will be much greater chances of success here,” Commissioner Aron Cromwell said. “And I think we will be hard-pressed to identify a more isolated location than this one.”
City commissioners heard more than two hours worth of public comment and then struggled among themselves on the proposal, which they said generated more than 300 e-mails from constituents.
Commissioners in a packed City Commission chamber heard stories ranging from formerly homeless people who said the shelter had saved their lives, to concerned business owners near the site who said the values of their property would plummet and undo decades of work.
Commissioners said the issue was excruciating.
“We are all struggling,” Commissioner Lance Johnson said. “I’m struggling up to this very moment on it. I don’t think it is the best site. But what is the best site, and are we ever going to get to the best site?
“I think most people’s problem is the track record. We’re being asked to trust, and let you go forward and prove yourself with a clean slate.”
Shelter leaders said the new shelter would be different in that it would not operate a drop-in center, unlike the current facility at 10th and Kentucky streets.
“There won’t be the people coming and going,” shelter director Loring Henderson said of the proposed facility. “They will always have a reason to be there. They will have something to be doing.”
Property owners near the site brought up a legal issue surrounding covenants that have long been placed on the property. The land owners have suggested the covenants won’t allow for the shelter to be located at the property. Shelter leaders urged commissioners to let that process play out among the two parties.
Ultimately, commissioners took that path, but said that may be an issue they address the issue more next week.
“I think this is a good location,” Commissioner Rob Chestnut said. “But it is clear to me that we’re in reverse order here. There are some contractual obligations here that make it clear that this could stop on a dime.”