Leaders of the Lawrence Community Shelter won a partial victory in their efforts to purchase an eastern Lawrence building to house an expanded homeless shelter.
Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny ruled Tuesday that a lawsuit regarding the shelter’s planned moved to a site near the Douglas County Jail by the end of March would proceed at an expedited pace.
But Tuesday’s hearing also made it clear that owners of the industrial park where the shelter hopes to relocate will mount a vigorous challenge to the shelter’s efforts to move to a vacant warehouse building at 3701 Franklin Park Circle.
For now, though, shelter leaders were happy with the results. Pokorny agreed to hear arguments on the case on Feb. 1, which puts the case on schedule to be decided before the shelter will finalize the purchase of the vacant warehouse building in late March. An attorney for the shelter said if the lawsuit were still pending, the shelter would not be able to proceed with the building’s purchase.
“The fact of the matter is that we’re at some risk here,” said Jerry Wells, a Lawrence attorney representing the shelter.
At issue is whether a set of 1996 covenants prevents a new 125-bed shelter from locating in the industrial park. Shelter leaders filed the current lawsuit against one of the owners of the industrial park in an effort to get a ruling on whether the covenants allow a shelter.
The attorney representing PDO Investors — a Lawrence company led by Steve Glass that is an owner of the park — argued the case needed to proceed at the normal pace and also provided a glimpse at the argument to come.
Lawrence attorney Todd Thompson said the park’s owners are confident the covenants limit the uses in the park to business, industrial and governmental uses. Thompson argued that the shelter is an impermissible residential use.
“They’re calling this a business,” Thompson said of shelter leaders, “but I don’t really expect the court is going to fall for this. This is a residential use for more than 100 people.”
Shelter leaders, though, have argued that a shelter is clearly permitted on the property because city commissioners changed the city’s zoning code to allow homeless shelters to be located in industrial districts. The shelter’s attorney said Tuesday that the covenants govern only aesthetic issues related to the site, which the shelter is prepared to meet.
Shelter leaders hope to have the building purchased by March so renovation work can be completed by next winter, which would allow the shelter to move out of its undersized building at 10th and Kentucky streets.