Lexington zoning board revokes permit for Community Inn homeless shelter

bfortune@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2012 

Outside City Hall, protesters showed support on Friday for the Community Inn on Winchester Road.

The Lexington Board of Adjustment on Friday voted 5-0 to revoke the conditional-use permit for the Community Inn, but gave supporters six months to find a new location for the homeless shelter.

In 2010, Breakthrough Inner City Ministries asked for a permit to operate a church with seating for 30 people at 824 Winchester Road. Nothing in the application said anything about it being a homeless shelter.

Jim Marx, a senior planner with the city, said the pastor "assured us this was not going to be a homeless shelter." This information was passed on to neighbors who were concerned.

The Board of Adjustment approved the request for a church which organizers said would have two Sunday services and transformational life classes on Thursday.

In 2011, operation of the Community Inn was handed over to Emmanuel Apostolic Church and the Community Action Center. The Inn now operates as a homeless shelter, housing as many as 75 men and women, seven nights a week. "That is a fundamental change in the use as applied for," Marx said.

The property is zoned B-4 for wholesale and warehouse use, but allows a church as a conditional use. That zone category does not permit a homeless shelter.

Board of Adjustment chairman Louis Stout said Community Inn organizers should have laid out exactly what they wanted to do. "They did not do this. That left us to think this was going to be a Sunday-go-to-meeting-church, and it has not been that," Stout said.

Marx said the planning staff has checked Lexington police records for calls to churches within a half-mile of 824 Winchester Road. During a four-month period starting in January, there were 38 calls. Of those, 32 were police service calls to the Community Inn.

The high categories of complaints were disorderly conduct, nine; criminal trespass, eight; a couple of assaults; and several calls where the nature of the complaint was not clear.

"No matter how I describe this, it probably is going to appear we are trying to pick on this facility, but this is not the case," Marx said. "We're simply pointing this out to show this type of facility is different than a church and how it might impact the surrounding neighborhoods. Those types of impacts need to be recognized, and need to be managed."

Marx said there are more than 18,000 acres in Fayette County zoned to allow a homeless shelter as a principal or conditional use.

The Division of Planning is committed to help the Catholic Action Center find another location, he said.

"This is a tough situation for everybody. Butting heads over zoning doesn't help anybody in the long run," Marx said.

Mayor Jim Gray is setting up a task force to address the issue of homelessness in Lexington.

Ginny Ramsey, co-director of the Catholic Action Center, said after the meeting she would devote the next six months to fighting the decision instead of looking for another site, because she is confident the Community Inn will win if the issue goes to court.

The Catholic Action Center will ask the Urban County Council to overturn the Board of Adjustment ruling. If that fails, Ramsey said her organization will sue based on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, as well as fair housing legislation.

Chris King, director of the Division of Planning, said Board of Adjustment decisions are not subject to review by the council. Normally, Board of Adjustment rulings are contested in circuit court.

Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010

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