Butler County Times Gazette
  • City Commission does not approve permit to allow shelter

  • The Butler Homeless Initiative did not receive its needed super majority vote to be able to use the Blue Spruce Motel as a homeless shelter
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  • The Butler Homeless Initiative did not receive its needed supermajority vote to be able to use the Blue Spruce Motel as a transitional housing shelter during the El Dorado City Commission meeting Monday.
    Following comments by the public and commissioner discussion, a 3-2 vote cast was to allow the special use permit for transitional housing, which did not meet the supermajority required since it was going against the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny.
    Public Comment
    The first to address the commission was Debby Work, the real estate agent for BHI in the proposed purchase of the motel.
    “Butler Homeless Initiative really wants to be able to work with the city of El Dorado in this,” she said.
    She said after the last meeting, the seller did agree to extend the contract, but only through Monday’s meeting. If it was not approved, he told Work he would go ahead and sell the motel.
    “The special use permit is not needed for Butler Homeless Initiative to buy the motel, but then it would be a motel,” Work said.
    She said currently alcohol and weapons are allowed and transportation is not provided, and the motel room can be rented by anyone for someone else to stay.
    She also said as a motel it could have up to 90 residents, not the 30 the special use permit would allow. She said there also would be background checks required.
    “Both the children and the neighbors will be safer with strict regulations,” Work said. “A committee is in place to evaluate the information and determine what is best for this particular facility.”
    She said as a shelter they could apply for grant funding to help with security systems, transportation and employees’ salaries.
    “There’s been talk of encouraging homeless people of other counties coming,” Work continued. “My response would be we will be sure and regulate the use of the facility.”
    She shared the story of a woman found living in a utility closet downtown in 19-degree weather in January.
    “As a real estate agent I have had to tell homeless people they have to leave homes,” Work said, explaining she also has taken people to see a home that was supposed to be empty and find people living there.
    “Your vote for the issuance of a special use permit will ensure use of the property as a shelter and the true character of El Dorado and helping those in need,” she said.
    John Montgomery spoke next, saying he was not against sheltering people, but he didn’t think this was the proper location. He believed people staying there would be walking down the highway because they did not have any place to go out there.
    Page 2 of 6 - “We live out there,” he said. “We live out there by choice. Talking about taking care of our country, when I was 17 years old I was on my way overseas. That’s a long, long time ago. I’m 87 now. I think that I have protected and given to my country as much as any person around here. My wife and I both give of our time and we wonder why we have to beg you to give us our little place on this earth to live. I think we’ve helped develop El Dorado about as much as anyone else.”
    He said he knew the sheriff’s department was spread thin and they don’t see them in that area.
    “But that’s OK,” he said. “We take care of our own. When you talk about people coming in here, if you read your papers or watch your television you would see more dope and murder and child molestation than there’s ever been in this country. Heaven help us if we continue down this road. Like I said, we’re not against helping people. We’d be more than happy to and we have all our lives and we will continue that way. We would like to be treated like Americans.”
    The next to speak was Natalie Donges, who posed some questions.
    She asked if the commission voted yes and BHI  applies for grants, if they would build the facility bigger and if so if it would house more than 30. In answer, she was told it could only have 30 residents maximum.
    She also stated while BHI representatives said they would do TB tests, those take 48 hours and she wanted to know if they would turn them out to the street or let them stay.
    She also pointed out 65 percent of the people in the Prospect area did not want it in the area.
    Next, John Prohorst, who lives in Purity Springs, but also owns property in El Dorado, shared one of his experiences with the commission.
    “I think having an organized place for homeless people would have prevented me losing a bunch of money,” he said.
    He explained he had a house that was subleased without his knowledge and thought a lot of drugs were involved. He said he did his best to get them out, and got the city, sheriff and police involved. It ended up costing him more than $2,000 to get the family out and they had stripped the copper out and plumbing out, as well tore up the walls.
    “I am in the process of fixing that place, but I am not sure it is worth it,” he said.
    Page 3 of 6 - “The people that were in there told the officers who were there and me they had no place to go. There was no place for them to take their possessions or any place they could take their kids. If they had had some place or if the sheriff and police could have had some place they could have referred these people to it might have helped. If it happens again there will be no police involved, no city involved, no sheriff involved. John will take care of his problems his own way.”
    Among those speaking against it was Myrna Byfield, who shared her concerns.
    “The Homeless Initiative indicated they want to be good neighbors,” she said. “I have asked Debby Work to have the Homeless Initiative’s Web site updated to include the new management plan so it is available tot he public. I checked right before I came down here tonight and it is not updated. On the new management plan, the last sentence indicates they will maintain an updated Web site too. It appears that Web site has not been updated since February.
    “As good neighbors, I just feel like in Debby’s earlier comments, that we were threatened. If they don’t get the zoning they want, they will buy the motel and run it as a homeless shelter regardless,” she continued. “If they are determined to get what they want, I don’t consider that very neighborly.”
    She also said she still maintains it it not large enough for what they want to do and thought it was too far from town.
    Finally, she asked Commissioner Chase Locke to excuse himself from voting because she thought he had a conflict of interest since he worked for Numana and that had taken him into homeless shelters.
    Tim Donges spoke next, saying he did not see the shelter as a positive for the community and thought it was more for inner-city areas.
    The next to speak was Melody Gault, BHI president. She said she was born and raised in El Dorado.
    “I love El Dorado and I, like you, want only the best for El Dorado and Butler County,” she said. “I will do everything in my power given the chance to lead the Butler Homeless Initiative in my tenure to prove that fact to you.”
    She said she wanted to work with the city and asked for the commission’s vote to allow the use.
    Leah Ford also spoke in favor of the shelter.
    “I sat here and listened to people talk about people as things,” she said. “People are people, not things. We are talking about people’s lives. Every single one of us here is a step away from being in the same place. Everyone deserves a chance.”
    Page 4 of 6 - She said she works with the schools, serves on site councils and serves in the community.
    “We have to decide if we are going to stand by people,” Ford said. “I thought, would I want this next door to me because that is a concern. I thought, it might be scary, but if I had the city and support of the wonderful police department we heard from earlier, if I knew that I had that support I thought what a great opportunity for my children to understand people and we all start from somewhere.”
    The last resident to speak was Sonja Milbourn, who also was in favor. She wanted to reiterate what she had said at the last meeting that the city has had a homeless shelter for the last 24 years in the SafeHouse.
    “I have never heard of an incident from First Baptist Daycare across the street or concerns from parents picking up their children,” she said.
    She said she was a volunteer there and never had any incidents.  She said there was quite a bit of dissension in the beginning but it is now a source of pride.
    Commissioner Discussion
    Following the public comment, the commissioners shared their thoughts.
    Locke started off the discussion by addressing the concerns raised.
    “I do work for Numana here in our community,” he said. “I believe there was a letter written from the director at the time supporting BHI’s efforts. I speak for Numana right now saying the current staff have not publicly endorsed it, and they have not discouraged it.
    “Everyone makes really valid points and you can’t disregard any of those.”
    He said he didn’t agree with all of the numbers and statistics been put out there regarding homeless in the county, but he does think there are those genuinely down on their luck in the community who are going from household to household trying to get back on their feet.
    “That’s what I see most in this community,” he said. “For me, I have had a few concerns that have been answered. I would not feel as comfortable with this if it was going to be over 30 people. I don’t think at times there will even be a need for 30 people.”
    He said from his own experiences he has found the most successful shelters did not have much more than 30 people and the ones not as great had a lot of people and bunk beds in one large room.
    “I feel after reviewing with our staff, I feel it does meet our comprehensive plan,” Locke continued. “I think in the past Butler Homeless Initiative has come before the city willing to be good partners.”
    Page 5 of 6 - He did want to give them some guidelines moving forward.
    He said he had taken the votes of the Planning Commission and County Commission into consideration but he had faith in the plan.
    Commissioner Nick Badwey also supported the special use.
    He said this had been the hardest issue in his five years on the commission. He said he read every e-mail sent to him.
    “I don’t have a background in social work,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a need. I don’t think that’s the issue really. To me it’s a land use issue.”
    He said he also thoroughly read the minutes from the other meetings. He thought some of the votes of the Planning Commission were a matter of opinion.
    “I think in my view it does meet the comprehensive plan and I intend to vote in favor,” Badwey said.
    Commissioner Bill Young had some different thoughts on the issue.
    He said they were presented with a couple of things. He said a lot of citizens had spoken to them a couple of weeks ago.
    “I absolutely agree with Nick that the comprehensive plan absolutely allows for the rezoning of it,” he said. “Nothing in the comp plan speaks of a homeless shelter or transitional housing. As I’ve thought about this, there’s a lot that has gone through my mind considering this.”
    He said what he learned tonight from Work was she was effectively trying to scare them into voting one way or another.
    “I find that very disengenious,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re left thinking we absolutely move forward with the special use permit or there’s no regulation and the people who live in those neighborhoods have more opportunity for their fears to be realized.”
    He said he couldn’t discount how people felt about their home or property.
    “I don’t think it’s neighborly to discount their concern,” he said. “I think that plays a lot into how I view this. People have real fears. At the end of the day, it is not my place to tell them that fear is wrong.”
    He said he looked at three areas. The first was the Planning Commission, the second the County Commission and the third was the public.
    He said they are required by state statute to send out notifications.
    “I think it is kind of a wasted statute if we don’t consider what those opinions are,” Young said.
    Page 6 of 6 - “I absolutely know there are homeless people in Butler County. There’s no disputing that. I absolutely disagree with the numbers. It doesn’t change the fact people are homeless.
    “There are a lot of things I have to consider as I formulate my vote for this issue.”
    Commissioner David Chapin said Young pretty much went over his thoughts. He said he did read the new plan and it was not much different than the original.
    “I do want to thank both sides,” he said. “They have been very passionate on both sides. I have heard from many on both sides and we will soon know here in a few minutes what the vote will be.”
    Mayor Mike Fagg pointed out the Planning Commission had a 3-2 vote and four members were missing. The county also was a 3-2 vote. In addition, city and county staff recommended the use.
    “I’m the type of person I can see the need and I think Butler Homeless Initiative if trying to fulfill that need and help them any way they can. If we say no tonight, the question would be where. That’s not my job to make those decisions. Our job is on the zoning issue. I still believe now is our opportunity to show the world our motto, the fine art of living well, does apply to all members of the community.”
    Young then made a motion to approve the rezone, which was approved 5-0.
    Next Locke made a motion to approve the special use permit under the conditions upon opening they have adequate transportation, it is to be used only as a homeless shelter and there be designated andsafe placed for kids to play. Badwey seconded the motion. Fagg, Locke and Badwey voted in favor, while Young and Chapin were opposed.
    Julie Clements can be reached at jclements@butlercountytimesgazette.com.

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