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Shelter zoning talks detailed

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Zoning issues and the objections of neighbors are the reasons that a homeless shelter won't be allowed in a Shelbyville neighborhood, according to the city's planning director.

Dr. Carl Bailey, president and chairman of the board of CROSS Shelter Project Inc., had claimed in a column published on Dec. 12 in the Times-Gazette that the city's Board of Zoning Appeals had not reviewed an application for a homeless shelter because Shelbyville's planning and codes director Ed Dodson "declined to allow the application to be presented to the board."

However, Dodson says that while discussions were held concerning a shelter earlier in the year, Bailey has never filed any application with the planning office.

Bailey's column was a reaction to an article about the Dec. 2 meeting of the planning commission in which zoning requirements for homeless shelters were discussed.

Currently, there is no category in the city's code for a facility for the homeless, and state planner Art Brown told the commission at that meeting that a C-2 zone, a commercial zone, would be the most comparable, because that is where a motel would be placed.

"No assurances"

In the spring, Bailey came to Dodson to inquire about possibly moving their shelter to a location on South Cannon Boulevard, since the owner of the home where the facility is currently located had decided to sell it.

The area on South Cannon is zoned R-1, low density residential, and is several blocks south of Southside School. Dodson said he told Bailey at that meeting that the city did not have the proper zoning category in its ordinances for a homeless shelter.

Dodson had also explained to Bailey he had only been in the planning job for two and a half months, and that he was "in a learning experience."

But the planning director also said he explained to Bailey he wasn't sure "how this was going to go," noting that there were several ways that his application could be blocked, primarily if the neighbors objected to the shelter's presence.

Dodson stated that no assurances were made in that meeting, and staff members of the planning and codes department also told Bailey that if he was going to request a zoning change or an submit an application for a shelter on South Cannon, registered letters would have to be sent to the surrounding homeowners.

"We were in uncharted territory here," Dodson said about the inquiry made last spring, but stressed that Bailey never filed any application with the planning office for the shelter.

But Bailey apparently was sending out the letters to the neighbors, because Dodson's office was receiving copies of them. Staff members told Dodson about the copies, pointing out that Bailey had yet to make any application for a homeless shelter and that the process was being handled backwards.

Not only that, but the recipients of the letters from Bailey were strongly objecting to having a homeless shelter in their neighborhood.

Bailey had also discussed the issue of the zoning for shelters with Brown, who looked into it and suggested that the only place a shelter could be placed was in a C-2 zone.

Neighbors' objections

Sometime in July or August, Bailey returned to the codes office, meeting with Brown and Dodson, saying he was ready to make his application and that CROSS had bought the property on South Cannon.

But Dodson and Brown explained to Bailey about the state planner's opinion on the zoning, as well as the other stumbling block.

"There was substantial resistance and objections from the owners and surrounding neighbors," Dodson said, telling Bailey that he was not going to be able to make an application for the shelter in that area due to the zoning issue.

Dodson also pulled together a zoning map for Bailey, showing the C-2 districts where a shelter would be permitted, he said. Bailey then had a meeting with city manager Michael Dill and council member Kay Rose about the issue in late September.

An e-mail from Dodson to state planner Brown dated Sept. 30 stated that he had already explained all of the reasons to Bailey in the first meeting why the neighbors "may object to this type of use and that if they were not on board, it would probably not be allowed."

Brown wrote that his memory of the conversation with Bailey was consistent with Dodson, "in that he was told that neighborhood concerns could potentially block his proposed activity."

"My primary concern is that Dr. Bailey is aware that from my perspective the homeless shelter is not a use permitted in the zoning district, even though there is no specific language of that nature," Brown wrote.

In early October, Bailey then told WSMV television in Nashville that Dodson had led him to believe that Shelbyville's zoning rules would allow the shelter to operate on South Cannon.

Since that television report was made, Dodson said he has not heard back from Bailey about the shelter.

Dodson said he thinks Bailey "has a very admirable cause that he's attempting to pursue here" and said it was unfortunate "that he backed into it the way he backed into it."

"It's something we need to address here in Shelbyville, and that's why I brought it up at the planning commission," Dodson said about the zoning issue.