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March 9, 2014

Zoning question to delay decision

TRAVERSE CITY — A decision whether to use a city-owned warehouse for an emergency homeless shelter likely will extend into summer as city planners devise a new zoning ordinance.

Safe Harbor of Grand Traverse wants to convert a building on Wellington Street a block south of Eighth Street into a shelter capable of providing a warm bed to street homeless during winter months. But the city zoning code doesn’t allow such a use in that location, nor any other city site, said city Planner Russ Soyring.

City planners last week assigned a committee to work on drafting an ordinance to contemplate such a use.

“It should be addressed in the ordinance somewhere, and this latest controversy will get the discussion flowing,” said Jody Bergman, a planning commissioner and committee member. “I don’t think crafting an ordinance will be hard, I think crafting criteria for where one can be located will be the hardest thing.”

City commissioners expected to take up the Safe Harbor request at their March 24 study session, but that appears unlikely now, said city Commissioner Ross Richardson. Richardson said it’s not appropriate for the commission to act prior to the planning commission’s deliberations.

But Commissioner Jeanine Easterday said she still wants to discuss the proposal on March 24 and a decision on the meeting agenda is pending.

The planning committee originally formed to identify city locations that would be appropriate for low-income and subsidized housing, but instead will first take up homeless shelters. The committee includes Bergman and planning commissioners Jan Warren and Cecil McNally, plus Kay Serratelli from the city housing commission and a yet-to-be-named citizen-at-large.

Drafting an ordinance with a controversial proposal in the wings is not the ideal situation, but planners tackled that chore on other occasions, Soyring said.

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