Planning commission hears concerns about shelter proposal
Residents supportive of cause, say Main Street is not right location for it
From homeless shelters to tiny homes, members of the city planning commission had a wide-ranging discussion during their first meeting in more than six months.
There were no action items on the meeting agenda, with city planner Bob Christensen stating he wanted to update commission members on some things going on so that they had accurate and current information.
Among those items were discussion on a possible homeless shelter location on Main Street, a discussion about possible size restrictions to limit tiny homes, and a planned affordable housing development the city is seeking to have built on Progressive Ave. just north of the Northcentral Technical College campus.
A proposal by Taylor County Supportive Housing to purchase a downtown building and use it for an eightbed homeless shelter drew the most discussion including from community members opposed to the location the group wanted.
Christensen said in order for the shelter to open, the group running it would need to get a conditional use permit. “If this moves forward it will end up coming back to planning for a conditional use,” Christensen said.
Christensen said they are patterning the process based on what the city did while approving the location for the Stepping Stones abuse shelter.
Jessica Mudgett of Taylor County Supportive Housing (TCSH) questioned if there were other options than having a conditional use permit such as an area of the city where a homeless shelter is allowable by code.
Christensen said it would be possible to change the zoning code to do this, but it would take discussion of where the city would think these types of uses should be allowed. He estimated creation of such a zoning area would take between four and six months to accomplish before it is even presented to the city council for action. He said if that was the route the group wanted to take it would need to start with the city council.
Downtown property owner Doug Gasek spoke against the proposed site noting that while he was in favor of a shelter to address that need, he felt that particular location was not a good site for it. He said that to him the downtown is “family-friendly fun times and shopping.”
Gasek also spoke about the special importance corner buildings have in being gateways and influencing the character of the area. He said a shelter on Main Street would lead people to question if the area was something people should invest in. Gasek described the shelter as being a great idea, as well as other ideas about the need for housing in the community.
“Great ideas bring about sticky conversations,” Gasek said.
Mudgett offered to address the questions laid out by Christensen in a recent letter to TCSH about the proposed shelter. Christensen said he did not want her to answer those at Monday’s meetings because it still was pending on what the county board did at its meeting on Tuesday.
Mayor Mike Wellner reported getting a number of calls and comments from people particularly among those in the downtown describing them as being “pretty upset.” He was quick to note that there was broad support for the homeless shelter in general, but concern over it being on Main Street.
Wellner said he understood the need for a homeless shelter and called for the creation of a joint committee between the county, city and TCSH to try to find the best location for it.
Mudget expressed frustration at the meeting noting that they had looked at a residential location previously but faced opposition from residents. She said she fielded those phone calls and said that was the reason they looked to have it in a commercial district. “Where does that leave us?” Mudgett asked.
Wellner admitted that it will be a hard sell for any area and predicted having 50 to 100 people at city hall when a decision is being made. “I think we will have to think about some other ideas,” Wellner said.
TCSH vice president Melanie Fisher said she respected people’s opinion about the downtown location. She said she works in human resources and has had five to six different employees deal with homelessness in recent times. She said that whatever stereotypes people have, the homeless people here do not fit them and are often people who are working hard and trying to better themselves in a community that doesn’t have many housing options.
From potential sites for a homeless shelter, commission members dove into a discussion about the lack of city regulations regarding so-called tiny houses.
Tiny houses measure under 400 square feet and are a design and construction trend among minimalists. Christensen said the city was approached by someone looking to develop in the area and asked about use of tiny homes. “My question is if that is a good idea,” Christensen said.
He said many communities have restrictions on residences requiring them, for example, to be 24 feet wide or at least 1,000 square feet. He noted that without any restrictions the tiny homes could be built on any residential lot.
Commission member Luke Dixon noted Eagle Ridge has restrictive covenants that regulate the size of homes there.
One suggestion raised by Christensen was to have areas of the city such as in planned unit developments where tiny homes could be located or a specific zoning district where they could be allowed.
Affordable housing project
Commission members received an update on a planned development of a 4.4 acre parcel in the industrial park to build affordable housing. The city owns the parcel and is in the process of seeking proposals to develop it under a state tax credit program. According to city coordinator Joe Harris, proposals will be presented at the Feb. 22 committee of the whole meeting.
He said developers have been on site and like what they have seen and have suggested it would be possible to put in 42 two to three bedroom homes in the area.
According to Harris the goal would be to apply for the competitive grant program by next fall. More information will be known after the committee of the whole meeting.