Lawrence Community Shelter leaders continue to focus on moving the homeless shelter to the former Don’s Steakhouse site on East 23rd Street, even though the shelter’s contract to purchase the property expired last month.
Loring Henderson, director of the shelter, confirmed Wednesday that negotiations to extend the shelter’s contract to purchase the property at 2176 E. 23rd St. were not successful. But the property remains for sale, and Henderson said shelter leaders believe the owner is still willing to sell to the shelter, if the shelter can win necessary zoning approvals.
“That site is still our focus,” Henderson said.
Gary Bartz, an owner of the property, confirmed he’s still willing to sell the site to the shelter, but said he also would consider offers from other buyers.
Neighbors of the proposed site, though, are now urging city leaders to open their minds to other sites for the shelter.
“I think the possibility of whether there is city land that can be used needs to be explored more,” said Pat Slimmer, who owns an auto repair shop adjacent to the Don’s site. “This is a city problem, and it is the type of problem the city should get involved with to the point of asking whether they have land that could be used for this.”
Two city-owned sites have begun to draw the attention of neighbors. The current Health Care Access site, 1920 Moodie Road, will become available now that the nonprofit health clinic has raised enough money to move to a larger location near Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
Henderson said shelter leaders have looked at the Moodie Road site multiple times, but said its small size would require a multistory building to accommodate the shelter’s needs. The site also would not allow for a separate jobs center building, which shelter leaders say is an important part of their future program plans.
But Henderson said the shelter would explore the site again if city leaders have an interest in providing the land via a low- or no-cost lease to the shelter.
A second site that has caught the attention of neighbors is city-owned property near the Lawrence sewage treatment plant east of the railroad tracks on East Eighth Street. The city has several acres of land near the plant, including a large lot that currently is used to house Dumpsters.
Henderson said shelter leaders had not reviewed that site, nor had city leaders mentioned it as a possibility when the shelter previously inquired about city-owned land that could be used for a shelter.
But Henderson said he would consider the location — even with its proximity to the sometimes-odorous sewer plant — especially if the city could provide transit service to the site.
“I really just want a place that is big enough to do the programs that we want to do,” Henderson said.
Mayor Rob Chestnut said he wants the city to stay focused on reviewing the proposal for the former Don’s Steakhouse site, unless the shelter specifically asks the city to investigate another site.
“The Community Shelter needs to be the group in the lead on this,” Chestnut said. “It is going to be incumbent on them to make a request.”
Henderson said he’s still focused on the Don’s site, and is hopeful that compromises can be reached with neighbors of the site to make them more comfortable.
Henderson said the shelter has proposed several changes to the shelter’s management plan after meeting with owners of several businesses that are adjacent to the Don’s site.
• Removal of a policy that allowed the shelter to return confiscated liquor to shelter guests as they leave the facility. The new policy would be to confiscate liquor and not return it.
• A change in the maximum number of days a person could stay at the shelter without being enrolled in a formal program to get out of homelessness. The new maximum would be 90 days, down from 120 days.
Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners are scheduled to debate the shelter’s plan to move to the Don’s site at their Jan. 25 meeting.