One day after a district court judge dealt their plans a setback, Lawrence Community Shelter leaders conceded a project to relocate the homeless shelter to a site near the Douglas County Jail may have to be scrapped.
Leaders of the shelter stopped just short of declaring their plans to move the shelter from downtown to a vacant warehouse at 3701 Franklin Park Circle dead, but said they were considering reopening their search for a new site.
“We disagree strongly with Judge Pokorny’s decision, but obviously we must live with it as we begin once again the search for a suitable location supported by the community,” said John Tacha, chairman of the shelter’s board of directors.
Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny dismissed a lawsuit Monday afternoon that shelter leaders had hoped would clear the way for the shelter to move from its current site at 10th and Kentucky streets.
Instead, Monday’s dismissal left a cloud of uncertainty regarding whether long-standing private covenants would prevent the shelter from locating in the business park.
Shelter director Loring Henderson said Tuesday that what is certain is the Lawrence Community Shelter will continue efforts to build a new shelter somewhere.
“We are sticking with this,” Henderson said. “It is important that the community have a homeless shelter, and it will have a homeless shelter. We have raised money, and we will provide a shelter based on the donations we have received and will receive in the future.”
Henderson said he did not want to say yet that the organization was abandoning all efforts to move forward at the 3701 Franklin Park Circle site.
“I just want to say that we’re exploring all our options,” Henderson said.
But Henderson said one option not under consideration is staying at its 10th and Kentucky location for the long term.
“That is not an option,” Henderson said. “It absolutely is not. It is an inadequate building for what we want to do.”
City Hall officials soon will face several key decisions about the 10th and Kentucky shelter. The special use permit for the shelter expires in April. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners will consider a one-year renewal of the permit at its Feb. 23 meeting. City commissioners will make the final decision on the permit in March.
When city commissioners last renewed the permit — over the objection of several neighbors — they said they expected the shelter to be well on its way to moving to a new location when the permit next came up for renewal.
Tuesday evening Mayor Mike Amyx said the court ruling created a new complication.
“We will have to listen to all the concerns,” Amyx said of likely objections that will come from neighbors near 10th and Kentucky. “But we also have to take into consideration what has changed with the shelter’s operations and what could change to improve the shelter’s operations.”
Henderson said he’ll just try to provide assurances to planning and city commissioners that the shelter doesn’t want to stay at the location for the long term.
“I don’t want to stay in this building,” Henderson said. “I’ll tell the Planning Commission and the City Commission that.”
Shelter leaders on Tuesday also were working to assure donors that efforts to build a new shelter were still financially sound. The judge dismissed the case, in part, because the shelter had not completed the $2 million deal to purchase the vacant warehouse. The court also noted that a bank loan for the project had not been finalized.
But Henderson said getting money to purchase the building has not been a concern. He said the shelter has raised about $1.6 million thus far, and has had very positive discussions with a bank about financing the rest of the project. He said the shelter has a donor who has agreed to act as a guarantor to pay off the loan, if for some reason future donations don’t materialize.
Henderson said the project has received donations from about 200 different donors thus far.
“To say that we weren’t in a position to purchase the building is incorrect,” Henderson said. “Our donors should be assured that we intend to use the money that has been given to us to purchase a shelter in Lawrence.”