PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Community Development Board approved the development of a homeless shelter at First United Methodist Church.
The board approved the shelter’s application Wednesday with 12 conditions — one of which gives the downtown community two years to find an alternate location
"I appreciate the time and energy and concern that all of the parties involved have expended in trying to make this initial step and whatever comes next possible," Chairwoman Sheila Irvin said. "It shows that our community is concerned about homelessness."
The Fenn Street church, in conjunction with shelter operator ServiceNet, plans to turn the classroom wing into a 40-bed homeless shelter.
The board first saw the application in July but continued it after hearing from downtown businesses owners who felt they were not given a chance to air their own concerns.
In August, the board held a second hearing. This gave the church and some of the downtown businesses a chance to meet and discuss the effects of the shelter in the downtown.
With more questions, this meeting was also continued.
In the interim, the groups continued to work together, and the board saw a list of conditions Wednesday that all parties were happy with.
But the downtown business community still hoped to see the shelter relocate, eventually.
Attorney Jesse Cook-Dubin, representing a group of downtown businesses and developers, submitted a condition that would allow the downtown community time to find an alternate location.
"We feel very strongly that the job of siting a homeless shelter is the community's responsibility, and the community has not upheld that responsibility. That needs to change," he said. "... This will give the community the opportunity to do that job."
The condition states that the permit be valid for two years from the date of approval. During that time the operator of the shelter and the downtown business group will work to identify an alternate location of the shelter. Within 18 months if these efforts do not result in the execution of a purchase and sale agreement or lease of at least 10 years for a new location, the special permit would be renewed without a termination date.
With this, the Department of Community Development, the shelter, and downtown abutters worked out some 10 conditions that set up regular lines of communication with the downtown community as well as security and maintenance measures.
The conditions mandate that the shelter operators establish a volunteer corps to work with the downtown to address loitering and unacceptable behavior near the shelter.
Conditions also include creating a designated smoking area, queuing area for shelter use, and the shelter must post visible contact information so the public can report observed concerns.
Finally, if ServiceNet were to no longer manage the center the board would have to grant approval to a new operator.
The board also agreed to some newly submitted conditions agreed upon by the shelter and the abutting CPA firm Lombardi, Clairmont & Keegan.
These conditions included:
• ServiceNet will maintain the cleanliness surrounding the entrance of the shelter and the abutter's entire property at 35 Pearl St. Also, two times per shift, staff must walk around the building to maintain cleanliness and discourage loitering.
• Staff must supervise and not allow people to congregate around the entrance of the building and the alley between the shelter and 35 Pearl St. will be fenced and secured. This alley cannot be used as a smoking area.
• Cameras will be installed at the entrance of the shelter and the rest of the perimeter of the building.
• LCK will be given ServiceNet's contact information and meet with them to go over operations in relation to the conditions.
Just Wednesday morning, the Homeless Prevention Commission endorsed the project, and City Planner CJ Hoss noted that the majority of communications the city received were in support of the shelter. During the meeting, dozens of callers spoke in support of the shelter and urged the board to approve the permit.
Jay Sacchetti, senior vice president of shelter, thanked the board, the abutters, and all those who called in to support the project.
"By approving this application the board...establishes a clear record in the statement that the downtown is open and an inclusive area for the entire community," he said. "Not just for the movers, shakers, economic engines but the community of volunteers and community leaders that assist the marginalized members of our community."
Elizabeth Herland saw the vote as a first step in addressing the homeless issue in the city.
She said she hopes the conversation continues and becomes a countywide discussion.
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