New homeless shelters would need permits, notification under Lexington proposal

Community Inn, at 824 Winchester Road, opened in April 2011 as a homeless center and church.
Community Inn, at 824 Winchester Road, opened in April 2011 as a homeless center and church. ©2012 Herald-Leader

Anyone wanting to open a homeless shelter in Lexington would have to get a permit from the Board of Adjustment under a new regulation proposed at Tuesday's Urban County Council work session.

The regulation would create a new definition for an adult day-care center and require a permit if it is closer than 500 feet to a residential area. Notification of neighbors and a public hearing before the Board of Adjustment also would be required. A homeless shelter would be considered an adult day-care center.

The regulation, an amendment to the city's zoning code, would allow centers only in certain areas of the city zoned business or professional. The regulation would apply to other kinds of centers, such as those for seniors or the mentally disabled.

Existing centers would not be impacted by the regulation.

Council member Chris Ford said the proposal was prompted by the day homeless shelter that opened in December at 224 North Martin Luther King Boulevard in the former Fraternal Order of Police Hall.

"The New Life Day Center went in without notification to the neighborhood," Ford said. Many neighbors said they found out about the shelter on the Friday before its Monday opening.

Requiring public notification is not intended to disallow or thwart shelters, Ford said, "But to allow collaboration between a center and its neighbors."

Chris King, director of the division of planning, told council members the planning staff inspects annually sites with conditional permits to see if it complies with board requirements.

The Emmanuel Apostolic Church and the Catholic Action Center sued the city over the Community Inn at 824 Winchester Road. The Board of Adjustment approved a traditional church at the site with services on Sunday and special programming on Thursday.

In an annual inspection, planning staff found the Inn was operating as a night shelter for as many as 75 men and women from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. seven nights a week.

The Board of Adjustment revoked the Community Inn's permit in July and gave organizers six months to find another location. The organizers sued, saying the Inn is a church that operates a shelter as part of its outreach ministry.

In response to Community Inn, the New Life Day Center and other issues in Phoenix Park on East Main Street, Mayor Jim Gray appointed a Homeless Commission to study homelessness and make recommendations.

The council tentatively agreed Tuesday to delay a final vote on the regulation until the Homeless Commission makes its report Jan. 15, a move requested by council member Steve Kay, co-chairman of the commission.

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