Keene shelter plans continue
Sullivan man expects to open facility next week in spite of zoning restrictions
By Jessica Arriens
Published: Saturday, January 02, 2010
A Sullivan man is moving forward with plans for a homeless shelter in downtown Keene, despite a city ruling that zoning ordinances prohibit the shelter from opening in its proposed location.
The Hundred Night’s Cold Weather Warming Shelter is planned for a building west of Main Street, in the city’s Central Business District.
The shelter would be considered a group home, which is not allowed in that district, according to an e-mail Assistant City Manager Medard K. Kopczynski sent to Donald R. Primrose, the Sullivan resident working to open the shelter.
Kopczynski detailed three options for Primrose: move the shelter to another district that allows group homes, secure a special exception from Keene’s zoning board, or request that the city sponsor the shelter.
The shelter would then be considered “governmental” use, and allowed in the business district.
Primrose proposed the Hundred Night’s Shelter about two weeks ago. He began helping the local homeless population in December, when the city started inspections of a shack housing several homeless people behind the West Street Shopping Center, a place known as Tent City.
The Hundred Night’s shelter would be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., have 16 beds and a bathroom with a sink and toilet. Volunteers would staff the shelter while it is in use.
Primrose said he still intends to open on Jan. 5.
“I’ll be at odds with zoning,” he said, but all safety issues will be resolved.
The city’s building and fire inspectors visited the site Thursday, and gave Primrose a list of items — such as installing smoke detectors — that need to be done for the shelter to safely open, Primrose said.
Those items will be accomplished this weekend, before inspectors visit the building again on Monday, he said.
Primrose is also taking Kopczynski’s advice. He plans to petition the Mayor and City Council to sponsor the shelter, and is asking the zoning board for an emergency meeting to hear his special exception request.
The city’s next zoning board meeting is Monday, Jan. 4, but Primrose already missed the application deadline for that meeting, Kopczynski said in his e-mail. The board’s next meeting is February 1.
Primrose is also filing variance paperwork for that meeting, he said, just in case.
His request for the city to sponsor the shelter will likely be assigned to one of the council committees before it can be voted on by the full City Council, Kopczynski said.
For Primrose, the city agreeing to sponsor the shelter would be the best-case scenario.
“There’s an immediate need (for the shelter), and the City of Keene does have the obligation to house the homeless.”
But the city can’t move as fast on zoning as needed, Primrose said. If he waits until February’s zoning board meeting to be heard, the board might deliberate and decide to delay any decision until March’s meeting, and by then it is too late, he said.
He plans to keep the shelter open until March 21.
There will be an informational session for people interested in volunteering for the shelter on Sunday, Jan. 3 at 3 p.m. at 17 Lamson St. in Keene.
Jessica Arriens can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1433, or firstname.lastname@example.org