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Downtown businesses oppose homeless shelter zoning plan

POSTED June 3, 2011 9:52 p.m.

Residents and business owners asked the Turlock Planning Commission to prevent homeless shelters from opening near their properties Thursday night, but the commission approved the by-right zoning area as proposed.

The proposed zoning area, just southeast of downtown Turlock, would allow for the construction of homeless shelters with just an over-the-counter permit, not requiring Planning Commission or City Council review if certain standards are met. There would be no requirement that a shelter be constructed in the zone, nor city funding for shelters, simply permission to construct shelters which meet a predefined set of criteria.

The draft area is generally bounded by Lander Avenue on the west, A Street on the northwest, S. Center Street on the northeast, and F Street on the southeast. A peninsula stretches south along Lander Avenue to Linwood Avenue, and another peninsula travels southeast five blocks between Golden State Boulevard and First Street.

That puts a potential shelter too close to downtown businesses, said Turlock Downtown Property Owners Association Director Trina Walley, who asked for the A Street boundary to be pushed back to C Street or D Street.

And Gale Barnett, who owns a home on D Street where her daughter and two grandchildren live, asked about the safety of living near a shelter.

“It’s a danger to children. Not only children, but a lot of things have happened,” Barnett said, citing loitering and urination in her yard. “... It’s just a real big problem.”

But such a zoning area has to exist somewhere in Turlock, per 2007’s State Senate Bill 2, which mandates all cities create an area where shelters are allowed. Turlock does not currently comply, as shelters are either defined as non-permitted or require a Conditional Use Permit in each zone.

Should Turlock not comply with SB2, the state could withhold housing grants and transportation funding.

The state standards also mandate that the area be large enough to construct shelters to house Turlock’s share of the homeless population. The City Council decided that number should be 200 beds.

The boundaries, as defined, theoretically house about 1,245 beds worth of capacity. But only six or seven property owners within the boundaries have said they would sell or rent space to a shelter, leaving just room for 636 beds. Should the boundaries be revised smaller, the zone could lose several properties, making the area not comply with the state mandate.

“The reason they have SB2 is none of us want something that could be potentially dangerous in our back yard,” said Jeff Woods, Turlock Gospel Mission executive director.

Woods said he, and other local homeless providers, don’t intend to run that sort of facility in Turlock. He said the providers are cognizant of the struggles related to Turlock’s old B Street shelter, and hope to get people out of homelessness, not “inflict emotional pain” on nearby residents.

Woods also said that the impacts of shelters are less related to the boundaries than the standards applied to those shelters. Among the standards required of shelters in the new zone: that shelters be placed a minimum of 300 feet from a park or school, employ state-licensed security guards, follow Turlock design guidelines and zoning ordinances, shield outdoor areas from public view if within 150 feet of a residential zone, and light parking, pedestrian, and entry areas, with lighting directed away from adjacent uses. Adequate management must be present during hours of operation, loitering must be prevented during off-hours, security plans must be drafted, and stays cannot exceed the maximum set by state law.

Those conditions – and the boundaries – were drafted based on public input at a February 2010 meeting. The zone was then revised based on input from the Turlock City Council, made smaller and to exclude residential areas in hopes of reducing impacts as much as possible.

 “It’s not something that staff just showed up with a report today and said, here it is,” said Planning Commission Chairman Michael Brem.

The boundaries were proposed to house as many homeless people as possible, Brem said, while keeping shelters close to existing homeless service providers. He went on to say that the conditions – and the will of the city – would prevent a situation like B Street from occurring once again.

“I’m willing to support this and send it to city council and see what they say,” Brem said, before a unanimous vote in favor of the ordinance amendment.

The Turlock City Council will have the final say on the zone, which could yet be revised. Their decision is expected at the council’s regularly scheduled June 12 meeting.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail acantatore@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

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