Chris Hauck speaks to the Montrose Planning Commission

Chris Hauck speaks to the Montrose Planning Commission Wednesday in front of a packed house at the Montrose City Council Chambers. On the agenda is whether to re-zone 931 N. Park Ave.  from light industrial to commercial, a designation that would allow Montrose Lighthouse and Shepherd’s Hand to house homeless people overnight. 

As the clock approached 5 p.m. Wednesday, a line of guests formed at the City Council Chambers for the City of Montrose Planning Commission meeting. Many of those were concerned about the safety of their neighborhood.

The crowd, which filled almost every seat in the room, was looking to say their piece in regards to a rezoning application for 931 N. Park Ave., Montrose. The proposal is to rezone from light industrial to commercial in order to allow for a homeless shelter in the neighborhood.

The commission voted 5-1 against rezoning the area, and their recommendation will be taken to city council for a vote on Aug. 6.

Those applying for the rezone are looking to house a dormitory along with providing resources for homeless and low-income people at the building. Along with residents, members from these service organizations — including Chris Hauck, Jim Renfrow and Garry Martinez — were present answering questions and providing information about why they would want to offer their services there.

City of Montrose Senior Planner Garry Baker explained without the rezone, this location could not be used as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, unless there is a conditional use permitted.

In the packet provided to the planning commission, there were a number of letters from residents stating why they would not like this rezone to happen. This packet can be found at cityofmontrose.org.

Residents also stated they were not made aware of the plan. Organization leaders said that they tried to contact residents. Renfrow went door to door speaking with people, and leaders wanted to attend a community meeting they heard had been planned but never heard of a time or place for the meeting.

During the Wednesday meeting, Hauck, Renfrow and Martinez, and other supporters of the rezone, spoke to the planning commission about why the location was right for this venture, which organizations are involved, what they offer, who they serve, how there are rules to being at the facility, security measures, the need in the community and more. Martinez, the founder of Shepherd’s Hand, spoke about the concept they want to implement.

The shelter, if allowed at the location, would open at 6:30 a.m. Guests could have a meal, do laundry, shower and in some cases have access to counseling and financial assistance, among other resources and services. Once they leave the premisses, they are free to do what they would like, Martinez said.

Residents spoke about many issues they believe will only worsen with the addition of a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. Some central topics were safety for those who live there, the children who go to school in the area, and the diabled who receive services there.

Grievances listed by the residents included being approached by transient-type individuals, campsites being set up by houses, stolen property, more trash in ditches and vacant lots, inappropriate behavior such as drug use and more. One resident even claimed to have had clothing stolen and used as toilet paper.

Although most residents agreed there is a need for these services, many agreed the location was not a good fit.

North Fourth Street resident Greg Packard brought up the safety concerns in regard to Northside Elementary School, PEAK Academy and Buckley Park. Packard’s son attends PEAK. His son and his daughter, both teens, have been assaulted, he said.

He made note that there is already an issue in the area. The organizers for the shelter said two-thirds of the people they help have substance abuse issues, and Packard wanted to know what the crime rate for these individuals is outside the facility.

“My heart goes out to people who have fallen on bad times, but when these people are attracted to one area… these neighborhoods have struggled to make the neighborhood nice again, and… it is a struggle,” Packard, who owns a business on Main Street, said. “Because property is high, by the nature of the price in property, like these gentlemen said, they can buy a lot more for their dollar in this area because it’s cheaper, and so what happens is the areas that are already a bit poverty struck, they get hit by these in a greater proportion of homeless shelters and stuff because they’re not going to buy property in … some of the nicer neighborhoods in town.”

“There’s a homeless issue in that neighborhood but there’s a homeless issue in the entire community of Montrose,” Martinez said. “What they have right there now is an uncontrolled homeless issue, and what we’re proposing to do there, the program that we have that we can administer is a very controlled homeless issue. One where we would have management and supervision onsite, one where we would have cameras onsite — inside and outside — we’ve been coordinating with the police department, we haven’t worked out the exact details but we’ll be looking for additional surveillance at nighttime patrol. Surveillance, patrol during the daytime. In that case it’s going to probably be a more secure area after we’re there than the unsecure situation they’ve got currently.”

Planning Commission member Anthony Russo questioned how much safer the area would be if they can not control the people after they leave the facility. Martinez explained they would stay at the facility longer because of the services provided, and if they don’t want to follow the rules set for them, they most likely would not stay in the neighborhood, they would go elsewhere.

The Montrose City Council will be voting on the rezone during its Aug. 6 meeting. Council normally allows for public comment during the reading, so if residents present Wednesday want to comment again, they can. There will not be another announcement of this meeting.

Monica Garcia is the news editor at the Montrose Daily Press.

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