El Dorado City Commission voted 5-0 to table a decision on a zoning change and a special use permit

After much discussion and comment from the public, the El Dorado City Commission voted 5-0 to table a decision on a zoning change and a special use permit allowing for transitional housing by the Butler Homeless Initiative at the Blue Spruce Motel Monday evening.
The rezone was from residential to commercial and the special use permit was for the transitional housing shelter.
On March 27 the El Dorado Planning Commission had denied recommending the application 3-2. Then on April 8, the Butler County Commission also denied the request 3-2.
One new piece of information received by the commission Monday was a more specific management plan. Previously, they had only received the preliminary plan.
Commissioner Bill Young began the discussion by suggesting they take the new plan to the Planning Commission and County Commission to see their thoughts on it.
Melody Gault, BHI president, talked about what they were doing and answered questions of the commission before it was opened to public comment.
Gault said said they were putting together an outside committee to recommend best practices, procedures and policies taken from other shelters with a good track record.
“We had not done that because our understanding was a preliminary management plan would be acceptable until we had approval to move forward,” Gault said. “We did develop this management plan but do see things would change as we get recommendations from other shelters and are meeting with directors of other shelters.”
Commissioner Chase Locke said he appreciated receiving the new plan.
“I read through it and it gave me a whole new perspective on things,” he said. “For me, I can say I support something like this coming into our community. In the past year, having spent more time in shelters with my job, it is all in that plan because there have been some (shelters) that have been kind of a mess and I have been in a lot that have been wonderful. For me, reading that this afternoon, I knew where I stood, but I wish it is something everyone previously had read.”
Gault said one other thing they are looking into are programs to make this to really become successful.
“We really do want this to be something the community can be proud of,” she said, “the citizens can be proud of and something we can have dialogue back and forth when there are concerns that come up and challenges we have and put those to rest.”
“For me,” Locke said. “I wholeheartedly acknowledge and see there is an issue in our community and something has to happen. We need to step up and take care of our own. I think unfortunately with homeless shelters people paint a messy, dangerous picture. I think if other people could see your plan and understand it better.”
Commissioner Nick Badwey said he had not had the opportunity to read the new plan yet, since they just received it that day.
Gault said a lot of the rules and regulations were the same.
“With this facility specifically, it allows for some safety issues others we looked at didn’t have,” she said.
She said with the motel, a mother and her children could have their own room, with their own showers, so the kids do not have to go into a community shower.
Badwey said most of the concerns brought to him were about operations.
Gault also said they represent quite a few churches on their board and has heard they are being supported by the Ministerial Alliance. She said from what she is hearing there is not only support for them from volunteers but also financial support.
Locke pointed out people were concerned although they have the initial excitement, a few years dow the road that dwindling.
“I know that’s where you put your faith into the plan,” he said. “That’s where what I saw and read through this afternoon gave me more confidence in that.”
Gault said this is her calling.
“As Christians we don’t get to always pick our calling or are they always easy,” she said.
She read from Isaiah 58, saying to give food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless.
“I feel this is a major undertaking and one I am ready to continue as long as it takes,” she said. “We are here to stay and we will help however we can. We just ask you to consider our request and vote yes.
After hearing from the public, the commissioners then discussed their thoughts further.
Locke said it had been interesting for him and he has gotten numerous comments from both sides of the issue.
He again talked about his time he has spent in shelters through work.
“I would say, from my experience, I see people who choose to be homeless,” Locke said. “They like the lifestyle of being homeless. There are some that choose to live that lifestyle.”
He said he did think the community needed some type of facility.
“We need to find a solution,” Locke said. “I really hope we can try to be open to one another in whatever the decision is and continue to educate ourselves.”
He also said more times than not the homeless are not bad people, rather just people down on their luck.
“I think we can, as a community, recognize this need,” he said. We have a need and I feel like we have an obligation to take care of it.”
Young also had a few things he wanted to mention.
He too has had the opportunity though is work to serve and volunteer in homeless shelters and counseling centers.
“I agree wholeheartedly with Chase and what the BHI has presented,” he said. “These are a lot of good people and a lot of people are one or two paychecks away from having those difficulties.”
He also said he knows the fears and concerns people have.
“What we don’t want to do is we don’t want to discount those concerns and fears that people are raising,” Young continued.
He said he had received an enormous amount of phone calls and e-mails on both sides.
“While I’m confident we have homeless concerns in Butler County, I also am curious about your numbers,” he said.
He said while people had stated that evening there were 350 homeless in Butler County, the BHI Web site said 150.
Young also brought up that the number of homeless would reflect those living with family, explaining if someone was living with another family member and not in their own home, they would be counted as homeless.
“I think there’s been a lot of contact with people concerned about location,” Young continued.
He also was concerned the “not in  my backyard” sentiment had to be considered.
He said he had heard concerns too it is not located into a central area.
“These are all things BHI gets to deal with,” he said. “As I consider rezoning and the permit, there’s a lot of that I think about personality and a lot of details I go over with my decision.”
Badwey had some follow-up questions for Gault.
He asked about feeding people there and how the area would be split up.
“The portion that is the two-bedroom apartment now will become a community space,” Gault explained.
It will include offices, computers, laundry areas, and small kitchens. She said she did not want to compete with other meal ministries going on in town, but would provide some food if someone was there during the day or if someone came in late.
As for transportation, they would have a van or two to transport people to appointments, work and more.
Badwey was concerned about what the people would do there every day.
Gault said they would be assigned tasks if they were there all day. That could include laundry, cleaning or preparing lunch.
Badwey also asked about the hours of operation and while originally it was just going to be at night, now it will be open all day.
“There have been some things we have had to change in our thought process,” Gault said, saying they had changed from planning to just being open over night to staying open all day.
Chapin also expressed his views. He said he has been all over the world, including some third world nations.
“Thank God homeless do live in the United States where they can turn for some help,” he said. “I understand how people live and how bad it can get. One of the big questions I have is about this new management plan. I have not seen it. I don’t want to be one of those elected officials that want to vote on something and then read it to find out what it is.
“I keep hearing we’re going to talk to the other homeless shelters to find all the good ways of doing things,” he said.
He said before he votes yes he wants to know what is in the plan. He wanted to know what would happen a year from now, or two, three or four years from now.
He also was concerned if it was going to be a paid or volunteer staff, saying people’s opinions on volunteering change over the years. In addition, a paid staff requires more money.
Chapin said he had a hard time going against the Planning Commission and County Commission.
He said he was not elected by constituents in the area in question and that they were represented by the County Commission.
“I do have moral thoughts of what I should do for the people as whole and not just because it’s helping and I’m going to get a feel good out of it,” he said.
He said at this time he would pass the zone change but not the special use permit and made a motion to table the issue until they could review the new plan.
Mayor Mike Fagg commented on how caring the people of El Dorado are. He also said his parents had been managers of low income housing.
He thought the Planning Commission and County Commission may have drifted away from the real issue of the plan.
“I felt the city and county staffs researched these issues and gave a positive recommendation,” Fagg said. “I found no reason to disagree with their findings on their issues. For this reason, I am in favor of both issues.”
The city staff had recommended the changes.
Badwey said this was his fifth year on the commission and this was without a doubt the toughest thing he could remember having to decide.
Young pointed out they appoint people to their advisory boards and if they were not going to give credence to what they decide at those meetings, he wondered what the purpose was of having them vote on issues.
City Manager Herb Llewellyn said ultimately the City Commission makes the decision.
Fagg also said a 3-2 vote was not a clear cut deal either way. In addition, four Planning Commission members were absent the day of the vote.
Chapin then asked if two weeks would bring the BHI to a halt.
Gault said their contract on the property is up Tuesday.
Debby Work, their real estate agent, said the contract could be extended if everyone agreed, but she did not have that agreement at this time.
Chapin again said he wanted time to read the new management plan.
“I’m putting my vote on it, I want to know what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s not about being mean or bad. It’s about doing my job thoroughly.”
He said there are two sides they are trying to protect, those wanting to help others and those who live next to it and the citizens of the city.
Work reviewed a few of the changes, saying they mainly had to do with changes regarding being outside the city limits, such as having sheriff’s patrols instead of the police.
“Because I feel positive about this and am thinking this could be a good thing, I would second tabling it so everyone can read the plan,” Locke said.
The commission voted 5-0 to table it until their May 5 meeting. For more on the comments from the public, see the story in Thursday’s Times-Gazette.
Julie Clements can be reached at jclements@butlercountytimesgazette.com.