A Fayette Circuit Court judge has ruled that the city was right to revoke a permit for a controversial Winchester Road homeless shelter. Ginny Ramsey, co-director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn, said Monday the Community Inn would remain open until the city and the organization could come to a resolution.
The city and the homeless shelter are working to reconcile a September 2012 federal fair housing complaint that is tied to the revocation of the Community Inn's conditional use permit.
"We are not surprised by the judge's ruling," Ramsey said. "We are all trying to work in good faith with the city and the director of the new office of homelessness to come up with a solution that will take care of the people on the streets and the people in the community."
Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for the city, said the city had no comment on the ruling. Straub said the federal fair housing investigation was ongoing.
Friday's decision was the latest in an ongoing legal battle between backers of Community Inn and the city about where the homeless shelter can be located.
In a 10-page ruling, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine said the city's Board of Adjustment was correct when it voted to yank the conditional use permit of Emmanuel Apostolic Church and the Catholic Action Center after a June 2012 hearing.
The city argued that a different church originally received a conditional use permit in 2010 to operate as a church at the building at 824 Winchester Road. That conditional use permit allowed the group to operate Sunday services and hold weekday classes. Sometime during 2011, Emmanuel Apostolic Church and the Catholic Action Center took over the building and began operating a homeless shelter. Emmanuel and Catholic Action Center argued that operating a homeless shelter was part of the church ministry, so a special permit was not needed.
Meanwhile, neighbors of Community Inn called repeatedly to complain about aggressive panhandling, public urination and other problems associated with the homeless shelter.
After the city revoked the conditional use permit, the Catholic Action Center and Emmanuel took the city to court. Lawyers for the two groups argued that the city was infringing on their right to religious freedom by revoking the permit.
Goodwine, in her ruling, called the religious freedom argument a "red herring" and said Community Inn should have complied with the original 2010 conditional use permit.
"When the plaintiffs took over that property, they also assumed the conditional use permit and its conditions. Then they chose not to comply with those conditions," Goodwine said. "The religion argument is a red herring."
Ramsey disagreed and said it was likely they would appeal Goodwine's decision.
"We maintain that sheltering the homeless is a church-related activity," she said.
Ramsey said they have been working with the city for two years to find an alternate location for the shelter, which provides roughly 40 percent of the city's emergency shelter beds. The Community Inn and Catholic Action Center, a day shelter, receive no city funding.
In September 2012, the Lexington Fair Housing Council filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging that the city's revocation of Community Inn's permit violated federal fair housing laws that say people cannot be denied housing based on race, sex or disability. Some of Community Inn's clients have mental health and addiction problems — people who cannot be denied housing under the federal Fair Housing Act. Many of the people who use Community Inn are also black, and the neighborhood is mostly white, the complaint alleges.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development later amended the complaint to include a day-shelter ordinance passed in 2013 that said any organization operating a day shelter for the homeless or offering services to lower-income people must get a conditional use permit. Requiring groups that serve the poor during daylight hours to get a special permit is discriminatory, the complaint alleges.