Planning Commission Green-Light’s Chardon Homeless Shelter
August 22, 2019 by Ann Wishart

The Chardon Planning Commission gave the Geauga Faith Rescue Mission permission Aug. 19 to open a homeless shelter for men at 339 Washington Street.

The Chardon Planning Commission gave the Geauga Faith Rescue Mission permission Aug. 19 to open a homeless shelter for men at 339 Washington Street.

The commission granted a use variance for the house on a very small parcel after consulting with legal counsel and hearing from two neighbors opposed to the project.

It was the fourth time GFRM Executive Director Nathan Long appeared before the commission, but the first time he formally applied for the variance, said Community Development Director Steve Yaney.

Long originally wanted to provide temporary housing for up to 12 homeless men but the 0.14-acre lot doesn’t have space for that many parking spaces, so Long and his board of directors lowered the number to six, Yaney said.

The shelter will be operated and staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by well-trained personnel and a staff member will be present at the shelter whenever one of the men is there, he said.

No matter where in Chardon the mission board decides to place a homeless shelter, a variance will be necessary, Yaney said.

An emergency homeless shelter is not the same as a group home or a nursing home, and is not addressed by city zoning regulations, he said.

The mission has arranged for staff to park at the Methodist church, leaving space for residents of the home to park a car near the new facility, Long said.

The house is currently owned by Harriet Sugar, who spoke in favor of the mission Monday. She said she has renovated the interior since buying it four years ago.

For 18 months, she has tried to sell the house, which is in a commercial district, but the shortage of parking space and lack of foot traffic and visibility have made it unsalable, Sugar said.

Chardon Police Chief Scott Niehus said he supports the mission, but is concerned having half a dozen homeless men in town will add to the workload of police and fire departments.

“An increased number of calls for service could … tax our resources,” he said, adding he talked to police in other communities where homeless shelters were established and was told they was a slight uptick in 9-1-1 calls for assistance, but violence is uncommon.

The city doesn’t have an ordinance for loitering or vagrancy, Niehus said.

John Simiele, who works at 220 Center Street, said he is concerned about safety for the businesses there.

Also, he said six men and staff members would create a lot of trash, requiring a Dumpster that would take up one parking space.

The house could be used for an insurance office as it was before being sold to Sugar, who has been trying to sell it for $175,000, he said.

Stacy Kastor, who owns property behind 339 Washington Street, said the area is not well lit and she is nervous about “interchangeable people” loitering on her property.

“I don’t have the money for a fence or lighting. Are there any guarantees the residents will not spill over onto my property?” she asked.

The mission plans to build a privacy fence at the back of the property, Yaney said.

City Solicitor Jim Gillette said if individuals who appear to be a danger to themselves or others come to the shelter, they will not be admitted and the staff will call law enforcement.

Gillette also said if the shelter violates any of the commission’s conditions and becomes a nuisance, the city can take appropriate measures.

Commission member Andy Blackley said the conditions include installing a sidewalk along Washington Street, putting up the privacy fence, getting a parking permit, adding restrooms before the shelter is opened and having a staff member on site whenever a resident is present.

The commission voted 5-0 in favor of granting the use variance.