Judge rules against Lawrence homeless shelter; move away from downtown up in the air

The Lawrence Community Shelter’s efforts to relocate to an industrial park near the Douglas County Jail have been dealt a legal setback.

Douglas County District Judge Sally Pokorny on Monday afternoon dismissed a lawsuit that shelter officials had hoped would clear the way for the shelter to move from downtown to a vacant warehouse at 3701 Franklin Park Circle.

At issue in the case was whether long-standing, private covenants prohibited a homeless shelter from operating in the industrial park. Pokorny did not rule directly on that issue, but rather said the shelter did not have the proper legal standing to bring the case forward.

The ruling left unclear what would happen to the shelter’s plans to move from 10th and Kentucky streets in downtown. Shelter Director Loring Henderson declined to comment on the ruling or the next steps for the shelter, since he had not yet seen the decision issued by the court.

Steve Glass — a Lawrence businessman and member of the industrial park’s board of trustees who have argued the covenants prevent a homeless shelter — said he hoped the shelter would re-open its search for a location.

“I think there are probably other locations that would work for them,” Glass said. “But the reality is they perhaps need to change their approach a little bit about how they run the shelter, and their approach in how they are trying to find a location.”

Shelter leaders filed the lawsuit in an effort to clear up any question about whether the shelter could locate in the vacant warehouse. The business park’s board of trustees have argued the covenants allow only business, industrial and governmental uses to locate in the park. They contend, among other issues, that the shelter is prohibited because it is a residential use.

Pokorny did not decide that key issue. Instead, the judge said that because the shelter had not yet completed the $2 million purchase of the building — and doesn’t yet have all of its bank financing finalized — the lawsuit was premature.

“This court agrees with LCS it would be helpful and convenient to know how the court would rule if and when LCS is in a position to purchase the property, however, this court is not in the business of issuing advisory opinions,” Pokorny wrote.

If the shelter is unable to move to the new location, questions about the shelter’s future in downtown also are likely to arise. 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. Whether city commissioners will be willing to issue another long-term permit for the shelter at the northeast corner of 10th and Kentucky street location is uncertain.