Several question arose during a discussion about allowing a special use permit for a homeless shelter during the El Dorado City Commission work session Wednesday afternoon.

Several question arose during a discussion about allowing a special use permit for a homeless shelter during the El Dorado City Commission work session Wednesday afternoon.

The commission room was filled with members of the public and different social services agencies, all interested in what will be decided.

The issue came up back in September, when the Butler Homeless Initiative (BHI) requested a public hearing to discuss amending zoning regulations to allow for transitional housing, previously called a homeless shelter, but they felt the new term better described their goal for the proposed facility.

The hearing was held on Nov. 8, at which time the term “transitional housing” was set, as was the definition for homeless and a proposal from the Planning Commission on how to amend the special use permit zoning regulations.

Currently, zoning regulations do not allow for a such a facility within the city.

“The Planning Commission recommends that term and that definition and they also recommend that this use be allowed by special use in all our zoning districts,” said Matt Rehder, planning and zoning director.

Rehder said city staff’s recommendation slightly differed. They recommended allowing the use in all areas except C2 downtown business and industrial zones I1 and I2.

“This is a land use issue,” he said of the discussion that afternoon.

Mayor Tom McKibban asked why they recommended the exceptions for the downtown business district, but not those in C1.
“Downtown is the entrance to the community and we didn’t think it would be a compatible use downtown,” Rehder said.

McKibban questioned that it would be compatible with C1.

Rehder said it would better accommodate it because of the size of lots and buildings.

“We really promote our downtown as a housing district, then to take them out of that district, I had some people ask about that,” McKibban said. “I have to admit, I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about this. People are really interested and concerned.”

McKibban pointed out that Wichita’s homeless shelter was in C2 zoning.

Rehder said a lot of areas in Wichita have overlays that don’t allow this use and that it is downtown because of the proximity to social services.

They also looked at the example of Lawrence and their shelter. They require a special use permit, but there are requirements of a management plan before approval.

“The actual plan itself is four pages long,” Rehder said of Lawrences special use permit.

If the City Commission approved the Planning Commission’s recommendation, applicants would only have to fill out four yes or no questions to request the permit. It also would allow a shelter anywhere in the community.

“This is about any organization or anybody who would want to have transitional housing in El Dorado,” said Herb Llewellyn, city manager, “not specific to Butler Homeless Initiative.”

Rehder pointed out that the Commission could tweak the recommendation any way they see fit.

In addressing one concern by the public, he said he would consider a place for prisoners who are released to go and this as two different uses.

“Someone who was released from the prison and has no place to go would be homeless,” McKibban pointed out. “Would they fall under that category?”

Rehder said they would.

But those in the audience pointed out that when a person is paroled, they return to the county in which they committed their crime and have to have a plan for living and working, they are not just released into the El Dorado community.

Another comment McKibban had heard was about the socioeconomic status in El Dorado already.

“Why do we want to increase the ability for other things that is going to bring people with more social issues to town when our social services are stretched to the max?” he said of what he has heard. “What I’m trying to figure out is what we allow.”

It also was asked if people in the area where such a facility was approved would have any say. Letters would be sent to property owners within 200 feet of a public hearing.

Commissioner Bill Young pointed out that the Planning Commission makes recommendations that do not always fall in line with the people’s desires.

Llewellyn explained those comments were just one part of the process, along with the appropriateness of the use and what was being asked.

McKibban said one concern he had was of housing values in the neighborhoods where this might be located.

Llewellyn said they would want to look at what has happened in other communities.

“I think that’s why the higher regulation would serve you all well in considering this because there is less uncertainty,” he said.

He also pointed out that the shelter in Wichita locks the doors at a certain time in the evening and they would want to know what residents would be doing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bill O’Connell, an ex officio member of the BHI board, also addressed the commission, telling them of a couple of studies they have read where one shows no decrease in property value around a shelter and no increase in criminal activity, while another shows a steady increase in property tax.

McKibban suggested they have a work session to discuss that topic by itself.

The commission had four choices Wednesday – to do nothing which would make it not allowable, approving it as is, changing it from the Planning Commission recommendation or sending it back to the Planning Commission for further discussion with a specific statement on what they wanted them to discuss.

One concern of McKibban’s was that the Planning Commission did not hear community input on the issue.

“Until people are specifically affected by it, I don’t think you will have people come forward and say ‘I don’t want it in my town,’” said Krystal Wallace, BHI board president. “It’s up to us to find a location and have it approved.”

“I had several people contact me from the community and they did not know it was going on,” McKibban said. “We run into that all the time.”

“You are using the public system to notify people,” Wallace said. “If you have another public hearing at the Zoning Commission level what is going to bring the opposition out? I think you have to move forward to bring the opposition out.”

Llewellyn pointed out that a better word might be stakeholders rather than opposition.

“It’s not necessarily opposition,” he said. “It’s about who all is going to be impacted.”

“I think it’s a valid subject to be discussed,” Young said. “A lot of people contacted me. I have gotten a lot of calls about this and couple were very much in support and there were a lot that weren’t.”

He said people were hesitant to come to the meeting to voice those concerns because they didn’t want to look like they didn’t care about the homeless when that wasn’t what they were saying.

Wallace pointed out that although people have heard about the initiative, they haven’t heard the plan or how it’s going to operate.

McKibban said another concern was that it would attract homeless to the community.

Marion Nichols, with Mid-CAP, said there were enough homeless people in El Dorado to fill the transitional program so they would not have to bring any in.

“I think possibly education is key because very often the same people who might object to the transitional program BHI is looking at may have someone in a transitional program with us living right next door to them and not know it,” she said.

She also said most of them are families that are working.

Wallace said such a home would help people be healthier and assimilate themselves into the community.

Nijah Fudge, city intern, suggested it was a community issue, so they needed more community input.

“Maybe we need an educational opportunity to get those things out in the open,” she said.

She is going to work with the groups involved to help set that up.

Nichols pointed out the Kansas Statewide Homeless Summit will be held in El Dorado next year, which she said would be a wonderful educational opportunity.

Commissioner Nick Badwey asked about the limit of 12 people listed in the definition.

O’Connell said they agreed to that when they thought it would be a special use permit by right, where it could be placed anywhere and wouldn’t need additional approval, but depending on the facility they might be able to house more than that.

Badwey also asked about what the “reasonable amount of time” was to move individuals to permanent housing.

O’Connell said a normal stay would four months. Longer than that would have to be approved by the BHI board.

Wallace said they had no objection to sharing their management plan.

El Dorado Inc. Director Linda Jolly also addressed the Commission.

“People in the room today are friends and neighbors and they have a project, but when we make these changes, we are opening this for anyone who wants to come into our community and have a project,” Jolly said. “We can’t just make our decisions based on the good intentions of people we know and trust. You have to do what’s good for the community here today.”

She pointed out there were 12 zoning district classifications in El Dorado.

“We have some of these 12 zoning districts that no matter what are not going to be the proper place for somebody’s facility,” Jolly said. “We need to look at our definitions.

“I just think there’s some work to do. It’s not about being opposed to the project. It’s more about what’s best and what’s most reasonable and what works best for the projects long term.”

O’Connell said they were happy to work with the city in terms of developing the expectations up front.

“We’re not prepared to set the parameters of what we are willing to work with [tonight],” McKibban said. “I would like to have public input in that point too.”

Llewellyn suggested the next thing they do is have a work session to look at the 12 zoning classifications, what they are for and where they are located. He also said they could get the Lawrence standards.

“We have worked hard for the last six years to develop the information, to develop the foundation, to develop the safety factor, accountability factor and success factor in our plan,” Wallace said. “I think what we have to offer, our research, our planning, is valuable to you. The top priority for us is running top-notch transitional housing for the community.”

McKibban said they first wanted to understand what it’s all about, then get community input.

Young said he would like BHI staff to move forward with Fudge to work on a different public forum.