Mayor’s proposal to cut new land for the homeless to Planning Commission, which says ‘not without a plan’

Under the ticking of the city’s six-month moratorium on any new homeless shelters, announced by Mayor Erin Mendenhall in October, the Planning Commission last week heard the administration’s case for the next stage of revising its zoning code regarding homeless shelters and homeless resource centers.

Things did not go well at the behest of the mayor. In a 7-1 vote, the Commission passed a negative recommendation to city council on a proposal that would require a rezoning for any new overnight shelter not considered “temporary”.

Homeless service providers testified to the challenges the new restrictions would create for their operations, growth and fundraising.

Planning director Nick Norris told the Commission “we don’t want to be an obstacle to that. But we feel we need to make some changes.

The city is acting in response to the State of Utah’s attempt to create an overnight shelter in August 2021 in the Ballpark neighborhood at 252 W. Brooklyn Ave (1025 S.) – the site pictured above, a drug rehabilitation center run by Volunteers of America.

Proposed zoning changes

Currently only permitted in CG General Commercial, D-2 and D-3 Downtown zoning districts, administration is asking City Council to remove homeless shelters and homeless resource centers as uses conditional or authorized in all areas of the city. They are “permanent” refuges, in the sense that they are authorized to operate all year round.

CG zoning is abundant in the Ballpark neighborhood, where shelter was proposed in August and spurred the mayor’s moratorium in October.

“This is not intended to be a permanent ban,” the administration says. “Rather, it is a necessary step in finding a fair process for locating these facilities in Salt Lake City that considers the well-being of homeless people, nearby residents and business owners, and equitable accommodations. of these facilities in the region.”

The Geraldine King Women’s Center, at 131 E 700 S in the Central City neighborhood. Boulders have been placed by the City in the strip of the park near the Resource Center. It is one of two new shelters built following the closure of the Road Home at 200 S and Rio Grande St. Photos by Luke Garrott.

The mayor proposes removing uses of the code and then creating a new “homeless resource overlay” area for homeless shelters. The catch is that the overlay would only apply to existing shelters. Any new shelter will need to request a zoning map change to be included in the overlay.

This would leave the discretion for the location of any new “permanent” shelter in the hands of the council.

Prior to the creation of this overlay area, existing shelters would become non-conforming uses – legal use that may continue as long as it is uninterrupted for more than 6 months.

The mayor is also proposing a new category for temporary overflow shelters in the code. They would operate no more than six months a year, from October to April, and would be designated by mayoral interim orders.

New “temporary” shelters would be permitted in “any zoning district that permits motels/hotels and government-owned institutional buildings.” According to BSL’s count, these areas are CB Community Business, CG General Commercial, CC Commercial Corridor, CSHBD Sugar House Business District Core, all TSA Transit Station Area, M-1 Light Manufacturing, all D Downtown and G- MU Gateway Mixed. Use.

There are currently no restrictions on the number of total or consecutive years that a temporary shelter could be in the same location.

Public Comment

This has prompted a backlash from neighborhood advocates who fear the temporary shelters will, in fact, become permanent winter after winter. Leaders of community councils across the city signed a letter that expressed strong support for removing homeless shelters from the city’s usage charts while casting a suspicious eye over the “temporary” label. It was read by Ballpark President Amy Hawkins at the meeting.

Homeless service providers, unsurprisingly, lined up in opposition. The Road Home, operator of homeless shelters and resource centers, provided lengthy commentary in opposition to zoning changes and the rather demanding list of new facility operational requirements. “The rules as proposed would create a significant administrative and financial burden on emergency homeless shelter providers, who provide a much-needed service to the community,” wrote Michelle Flynn, executive director of Road Home.

The Gail Miller Resource Center, at 242 W. Paramount Ave (1530 S.) Photos by Luke Garrott.

Rescue Mission’s Christopher Crosswhite expressed his organization’s frustration that “this will set back all the progress we’ve made over the past 10 years and significantly hamper our effects.”

If the ban on homeless shelters in all areas is enacted, Crosswhite said, “the rescue mission would not be able to campaign for donations to purchase new land to expand because they would be unable to to identify a particular parcel, to consider an installation… or to represent [to donors] that he could get zoning approval for the project.

The Commission’s vote

Planning commissioners themselves have expressed reluctance to engage in a discussion of operational issues, citing a lack of expertise in the matter. Commission Andra Ghent asked Director Norris if the service providers, in their opposition, “misunderstood the intent of the change”.

“I don’t think they misunderstood,” Norris replied. “I think they have very reasonable concerns with this approach.”

While the commissioners were relatively taciturn in their discussion – the point was the last of a long four-hour meeting – the sentiment seemed to be summed up by Adrienne Bell, who was asked to vote by chairwoman Amy Barry for the first time.

“I don’t think we should remove code uses until we have a plan in place to address this issue,” Bell noted before voting down the negative recommendation.

An overwhelming majority of Commission colleagues agreed by a 7-1 vote to recommend rejection by City Council, which will likely take up the matter soon at the request of the administration. The six-month moratorium on “awaiting order” land use expires in April.

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