Whether a Lawrence homeless shelter can move from downtown to an industrial park near the Douglas County Jail soon should become a lot clearer.
Attorneys for the Lawrence Community Shelter and trustees of the business park completed arguments Thursday in Douglas County District Court.
“I know everyone is in a hurry for an opinion on this one,” said Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny. “I’ll send out one as fast as I can.”
If the shelter loses the case, it likely would derail plans for the shelter to move from its location at 10th and Kentucky streets. It also could create questions about the shelter’s future in downtown. The shelter’s special use permit that allows it to operate downtown is set to expire this spring. When city commissioners last renewed the permit — over the objection of neighbors — they did so with the expectation that the shelter would be well on its way to a new location when the permit came back up for renewal.
Attorneys for the shelter argued vigorously on Thursday that the homeless shelter has the right to relocate to the industrial park. Trustees for the business park contend long-standing covenants prohibit a homeless shelter from locating in the park, but shelter attorney Jerry Wells argued no such language is included in the covenants.
“What they want you to do is infer or imply a restriction, and that can’t be done,” Wells said.
But Todd Thompson, an attorney for the trustees, said the covenants are clear that the park is for industrial, governmental and business uses. He said the shelter doesn’t fall into any of those categories.
“The law does not require the absurd listing of every use you want to prohibit,” Thompson said. “One cannot intellectually, honestly read these covenants and conclude that they allow people to live in the park.”
City commissioners have approved a special use permit for the shelter to locate at 3701 Franklin Park Circle. But commissioners said at the time of the approval that they weren’t making any judgment about whether the covenants allowed a shelter use at the site.
Attorneys for the trustee group — which is led by Lawrence businessman Steve Glass — argued the shelter project is far from a done deal regardless. Attorneys asked the court to rule that the shelter doesn’t have proper standing to have filed the lawsuit — the shelter is the plaintiff in the suit — because it does not have a completed bank loan and thus has no certainty that it could purchase the building even if it wins the lawsuit.
Loring Henderson, director of the shelter, confirmed that his group doesn’t have a finalized bank loan, but he said discussions with a bank have gone well and he doesn’t expect that to be an issue.
The shelter has agreed to pay about $2 million for the building. Shelter leaders have raised about $1.6 million in funds, but anticipate that a “bridge loan” will be needed to close the transaction and to give the shelter more time to raise the needed funds through donations.
“The bank has always said ‘when, not if,’ when they have talked to us,” said Doug Brown, a commercial real estate agent who also is part of the shelter’s leadership team.
Pokorny did not give a specific timeline for her decision, but attorneys said it could be in a matter of days.