Following a public hearing Thursday evening, the El Dorado Planning Commission approved an amendment to allow a transitional housing land use classification to be added to the city’s zoning regulations.

Following a public hearing Thursday evening, the El Dorado Planning Commission approved an amendment to allow a transitional housing land use classification to be added to the city’s zoning regulations.

The motion carried 4-3 with Commissioners Fred Britain, Tim Engels, Scott Leason and Van Pooler in favor and Commissioners David Stewart, Steve Funk and Gregg Lewis opposed.

The Planning Commission’s recommendation to approve the amendment will be passed along to the City Commission.

During the public hearing, Butler Homeless Initiative (BHI) president Melody Gault was the first to speak.

“Thank you for your support in the past,” she said. “It has been a bit of a process. September 2011 was the first time we came before you.”

She went on to review the timeline of what has happened in the process so far.

“We are happy with the definition before you and endorse the proposed definition,” she said.

At the direction of the El Dorado City Commission, a Transitional Housing Task Force was formed in July 2012 to address the issue of establishing a transitional home in El Dorado. A task force of more than 20 citizens met once per month from August through December 2012.

The definition Gault referenced is from that task force and reads as follows: A facility, occupied by not more than 30 residents, with staff members as needed, which provides transitional housing for the purpose of facilitating the movement of homeless individuals and families to permanent housing, and which may also include providing ancillary services such as employment counseling, vocational training, dining and food preparation, and individual or group behavioral health interventions.

A building used for transitional housing would need a special use permit and would only be allowed in the R-3, C-1 or O-1 zoning districts. R-3 allows high density residences, including apartments, C-1 is general retail areas and O-1 contains the business park.

“It’s staff’s recommendation to not allow it in the business park,” said Assistant City Engineer Scott Rickard.

The original definition limited the number of people at the shelter to 12, and the commissioners wanted to know why the number was changed to 30.

According to Krystal Wallace, the reason for the change is the increase in the number of families seeking shelter. She reasoned if a couple of families, or mothers with children, as well as several individuals, all needed help, the number could easily exceed 12.

She was also asked whether or not homeless people from other communities will be transported to El Dorado for shelter.

“The majority of homeless in Butler County are in El Dorado,” she said, “and the city refers people to us.”

However, she said she could not rule out an occasional trip to another community within Butler County to help someone who had nowhere else to go.

“We are a county-wide organization,” she said. “We do intend to have a van that is to serve our residents. It’s not intended specifically to bring more people into El Dorado.”

Stan Stewart also addressed the commissioners during the public hearing.

“Part of what I want to remind you is this is a land use issue,” he said.

He said the three zones in which transitional housing could be allowed are relatively restrictive and will make finding a building challenging.

Britain, who was the Planning Commission’s representative on the task force that came up with the transitional housing definition, said discussions were held with various community members and organizations, including the school district, Butler Community College and the El Dorado Police Department.

“Everybody’s had to give a little bit,” he said. “That’s why it’s changed so much. This definition gives BHI the chance to actually look at a site now. This lets them get going on a definition everybody can agree on.”

BHI does not yet have a location for a shelter, but this definition will allow them to look in the designated zoning areas.

“It is a genuine concern of many people,” Funk said of the shelter. “It is something that should be a careful consideration as we are making this decision to allow transitional housing.”

Gault responded that she is always willing to have an open dialogue with homeowners.

As the discussion came to a close, David Stewart reminded his fellow commissioners they aren’t the ones who have the final say on transitional housing.

“Ultimately we’re an advisory board,” he said. “Our decision goes to the City Commission.”

“That doesn’t lessen our responsibility that it goes forward,” replied Funk.

“Tonight we’re just approving the definition,” said Britain. “We can add regulations to that site via the special use. Their hands are kind of tied right now.”

Ultimately, the commission approved the definition with several supplementary regulations including:

• Allow only one transitional home in each zoning district; (BHI representatives noted they have no plans for more than one shelter at this time).

• No transitional home use in the Business Park;

• Management Plan addressing the following: Operations of the home from intake to lights out; Development of the lot, including screening and parking; Staffing; Safety procedures in cases of emergency; Loitering control; Transportation of residents without transportation themselves.