Neighbors discuss problems surrounding Winchester Road homeless shelter

kward1@herald-leader.comMay 15, 2012 

About 15 people who live or work near a homeless shelter on Winchester Road met Tuesday night to discuss problems they say have been caused by the shelter and to explore forming a neighborhood organization to work on that and other issues.

Since The Community Inn opened at 824 Winchester Road, panhandling has become a problem, attendees said, and they worry about sex offenders spending time in their neighborhood. Several said they do not think the facility is complying with city government rules. Lexington zoning officials are trying to force the closing of the inn.

The facility, a joint partnership between the Catholic Action Center and Emmanuel Apostolic Church, provides a place for men and women to sleep from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m.

B.W. Blanton Jr., who volunteered to help lead the neighborhood group, held up a list of five registered sex offenders who have listed The Community Inn's address as their home.

"We want to help, but we don't want to give up our quality of life or safety," he said after the meeting.

Ed Clark, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years, said he was concerned about the people he sees coming and going from the inn.

"From 8 in the morning until 7 the next night, they're our problem," he said. "It's not safe to go to SuperAmerica (now Speedway) anymore."

Councilman Bill Farmer, whose 5th District includes The Community Inn, organized and led the meeting.

Carrie Berend, volunteer coordinator for The Community Inn, also attended. She said the inn holds computer and résumé-writing classes, Bible studies and a medical clinic at night, and transportation is provided in the morning for people who want to go to the Catholic Action Center on Fifth Street during the day.

Several who attended raised questions about the facility's compliance with zoning and related rules. "I for many years have had to comply with what a zoning designation is," said Mark Jeter, who owns property near The Community Inn. "If they're allowed to use it out of compliance, how is anyone else protected?"

Lexington zoning officials have said that a conditional-use permit allows a church at the Winchester Road site, but that The Community Inn is not a church. City zoning inspectors have said the facility is in violation of its permit granted by the Board of Adjustment. The board will hold a hearing on the matter at 1 p.m. Friday.

The neighbors also raised questions about a second-floor women's shelter The Community Inn opened in the building on Sunday night. Berend said it has room for 40 women.

The Community Inn does not have a certificate of occupancy from the city's building inspection department to allow people to sleep on the second floor, and that floor had not been inspected by fire officials as a sleeping facility when it opened.

On Tuesday, the city's planning commissioner met in the mayor's office with the fire marshal and director of building inspection to discuss the issue.

"Building Inspection has issued a certificate of occupancy for the facility, but only to operate a church," Derek Paul sen, commissioner of planning, said in a statement. "Fire has inspected and approved it for that same use. A certificate of occupancy for a sleeping facility would be required, but that decision hinges on the Board of Adjustment's decision this Friday."

Paulsen said that although the inn does not have a final inspection from the fire marshal's office, the fire marshal found "there are no life safety issues that need to be addressed immediately as long as no more than 40 people are sleeping on the second floor."

Herald-Leader staff writer Beverly Fortune contributed to this report. Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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