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City OKs more liberal policy for shelters

September 13, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Though a recent shift in city zoning regulations may not change the way Room at the Inn does business in the city, it could open the door for the establishment of other homeless shelter programs.

On Monday, the Marquette City Commission adopted changes to the city's zoning ordinance to allow for the establishment of homeless shelters by charitable organizations. Previously, shelters were only allowed as accessory uses related to a church building.

Prospective shelters - which must be approved by the city, be constantly staffed during hours of operation and meet a number of size and occupancy criteria - will now be allowed as a conditional land use in properties zoned in the office district, the community business district and the central business district.

Article Photos

When Room at the Inn began considering a purchase of the former Faith in Christ Fellowship Church, pictured here, the city planning commission started a process to change the city zoning ordinance in order to allow charitable organizations to host homeless shelters in centralized locations in the city. The new zoning ordinance was adopted Monday by the city commission. (Journal photo by Kyle Whitney)

Robin Roy, the program coordinator for Room at the Inn, a local program that provides nightly lodging for the homeless through the fall and winter, said the change should be great for those looking to help the homeless.

The conversation about altering the zoning laws began this summer when the Room at the Inn board began to look at purchasing the former Faith in Christ Fellowship Church, located on the corner of Fourth and Ridge streets in Marquette.

Under previous zoning laws, a shelter could not be housed in a building owned by a charitable organization not affiliated with a church.

Roy said the Room at the Inn board had discussions about buying the church, but made a unanimous decision to continue with the current format, in which a group of area churches take turns hosting shelter nights.

"Room at the Inn is really attached to the (churches)," she said. "Room at the Inn is more a homeless shelter offered by churches and the relationship to the church is foremost.

"This does not change anything about Room at the Inn right now," she said of the zoning shift. "We are not purchasing a building."

Still, Roy praised the zoning changes, which will allow for the possible future creation of downtown homeless shelters by other charitable organizations.

City Planner Dennis Stachewicz told the city commission on Monday that the planning commission spent about two months looking at examples of ordinances from similar communities and undertook a detailed process to craft the regulations.

The zoning changes were approved by the city commission Monday by a 6-0 vote.

The Faith in Christ Fellowship Church, which held services in the church at the corner of Fourth and Ridge streets until recently, has purchased a new church and will be renting out the downtown church.

Room at the Inn will lease the basement of the church, which will be utilized as a warming center for the homeless and the church will continue to be a part of the Room at the Inn's rotating shelter schedule.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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