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Infrastructure committee debates on homeless; Homeless Coalition voices concern over zoning for future plans

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Progress on the use of the Rivers of Life building by the Roswell Homeless Coalition is underway as the transitional housing amendment was brought before City Council’s infrastructure meeting Monday afternoon.

“On Nov. 13 of this year, we presented at the infrastructure committee with draft language that would allow for transitional housing to be located,” said planning manager for Roswell’s Planning and Zoning department, Bill Morris. “This has nothing to do with the current situations. It would be for future situations or a respective new site coming in.

“This is located within the Industrial 1 and Industrial 2 zoning districts. There are some changes and modifications that were proposed at that meeting.”

Morris said the committee had been “kicking around” the proposed changes.

“It would probably be a very problematic situation if we were expected to site that long ways, so we’re just recommending a consideration to dropping it down to 500 feet,” Morris said.

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Initially, 750 feet was the decision for zoning the property. This site could not be established or located within 750 feet of any existing residential zone. Other types of sites similar could include residential use, parks, public building, religious institution, school, a club, child care facility, licensed, or similar existing youth organization.

Transitional housing is temporary housing for the homeless population, which assists those in a homelessness situation into permanent, affordable housing.

The committee said transitional housing site is required to be in a minimum lot area of two acres. The site shall be under the control by a licensed nonprofit entity.

The council also determined that the site must be established or located within 500 feet of any existing residential zone.

The committee the required distance will be measured in a straight line from the nearest property lines of the transitional housing site to the property lines of the property that is zoned or used without regard to intervening structures.

Morris said that there will be facilities for single parents with children, which would include single fathers.

“We hope to transition out as soon as possible,” Mark Green of the Roswell Homeless Coalition said. “Sometimes that takes a little more time than you would think, trying to get them through the right process and that sort of thing — sometimes there is a waiting list for two years.”

Green said both the homeless coalition and committee had been discussing property values going up in Roswell.

“Property values go up — homelessness increases for people who are on the edge of poverty. Hopefully, we transition them out in three months. That is our goal. Whether that can be done for a lot of people or not is difficult to say. It’s definitely transitional to get them off the street, into something temporary, towards traditional housing.”

“We think that this is something new,” city engineer Louis Najar said. “We have to think of something that makes it palatable to City Council, and then also something more feasible to find and buy properties to move forward.”

Green asked about the 500 feet and which other properties had to come under this specific zoning criteria.

Najar said the appropriate zoning separation distances are 300 feet for liquor businesses, which is a state requirement, and sexually-oriented businesses are zoned at 750 feet.

“You want to know why that number came up?” Najar asked. “Based on what we saw, how the council and how the homeless coalition was reacting, we just thought it was a number that we could sell to the council and the public. That’s where that number came from.”

Najar said that 500 feet is not that far and compared it to a small block, or a football field and a half. Najar asked Green and the council if they would vote for something less than 500 feet.

“Number one, we know the city has put effort into researching properties,” Green said. “We greatly appreciate it. We are concerned that the new restrictions might make it very difficult for us to ever find a place that would fit those criteria, and we know that Rivers of Life current facilities that we’re renovating and we plan to be open the second of January and work on getting this filled hopefully sometime in March. But, we know that these places are landlocked and there is not a lot we can do about it.

“We know from our last point and time survey, less than one-third of the homeless population that we would like to be able to assist with some kind of transitional housing could be helped. That is our concern.”

In response, Morris said that there is an allowance for variance process that allows for that 500 feet to be examined and possibly reduced.

“How difficult are these ordinances going to make it to ever find a location within the city limits?” Green asked.

“The council can say look, we’d like to change this to 300, 600, 400 feet whatever,” Najar said. “Or if this passes, now there is an ordinance. You present plans, and you ask for a case, now you are asking for a variance from 500 to 300 on this ordinance, and then the commission can rule on it.”

Najar summarized that this ordinance passing allows for action to be taken, but the rules have to be in place first. Najar also said that the council would be one to change it.

Green inquired about obtaining adjacent properties and whether they would be grandfathered into the present facility’s code.

Morris said that those properties would not be grandfathered in since the properties would be under the ordinance, which would make them unusable.

“Right now, technically in the code, there are no provisions in transitional housing period,” Morris said.

Jeneva Martinez, board member of the homeless coalition, asked for clarification on the Fair Housing Act.

“You can’t create zoning to create impediments to exclude certain kinds of people, but we are creating the situation here,” said Morris. “With respect to the Rivers of Life, we have two facilities. One of them is an R-1. One of them is a C-2. They have been in operation for a long time, so we are considering them to be non-conforming uses. That’s why we told you guys to get this thing going.”

Morris said a non-conforming use can go dormant in no longer than six months.

“We are thinking a community center,” Martinez said and quoted the agenda. “This housing can include a kitchen, training rooms, and other types of support services located on sight. So we wouldn’t be able to build a community center across because it would need to be an I-1 or I-2?”

Morris confirmed Martinez’s question and in response, Martinez asked if this ordinance could be tabled for a year until the coalition could prove to the council what they could do with Rivers of Life.

“If we don’t pass this, you can’t even go ask for a variance,” city councilor Caleb Grant said. “The answer is just pretty much no. Variances happen all the time on everything, but you have to have this to ask for a variance.”

Morris said an expansion that the coalition is asking for would most likely not hold up legally because it is clearly linked to the Rivers of Life facility.

Grant said if it is a separate entity one could technically create a community facility.

The motion passed in order to be presented to full council at a later date.

“I think it is critical we get something on the books now,” Mayor Dennis Kintigh said. “We can start working through the variances, and we can get the council and community to see. I think the 500 could go to 300. The governing bodies can decide that once they come up with an amendment.”

Councilor Juan Oropesa said he maintains his stance that 750 feet would be more ideal, especially in a residential area.

“Again we greatly appreciate the work,” Green said. “We are just trying desperately to help them and the impediments are walls. It’s sad that it is this difficult and expensive to help people. Our community has really jumped behind us. We raised $21,000 just last Friday at the Cambridge event, which was huge. Thank you to the city for supplying the police and blocking off the street.”

The motion carried 2-1, in order to be presented to full council at a later date.

“When we did our point and time survey, our number was 182,” Martinez said. “We’re a community of 50,000. We can take care of 182 people.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.