(From left) Town councilors Jane Millett, James Mason and Dan Ankeles discuss zoning for homeless shelters at Wednesday night’s workshop. (Hannah LaClaire / The Times Record)

BRUNSWICK — One year after Tedford Housing first approached town officials about the need for a new homeless shelter and resource center, the town is still trying to set zoning rules as the process grinds along amid and resistance from potential neighbors.

 

Wednesday marked the first of at least two workshops for the town council to review the planning board’s recommendations for a proposed shelter zoning ordinance in Brunswick.

When Tedford Housing officials first approached the town with their intent to help house some of 354 individuals and 228 families the agency has to turn away each year, it was quickly realized that Brunswick was not properly zoned for homeless shelters, despite Tedford’s presence in Brunswick for decades.

Months later, a zoning proposal has gone from the shelter task force created to help draft an ordinance to the town council for public hearings and then to the planning board, which narrowly moved forward an amended version of the shelter task force’s recommendations earlier this month.

“We’re not proposing a mega-shelter,” Tedford board member Andree Appel said. The intended resource center would serve 70 people, 48 of whom would be families.

Addressing concerns that larger facilities would draw more people from across the state and region, she said: “In terms of it we build it, they will come… they’re already here.”

The only major planning board changes to the proposed ordinance were to remove a set of regulations requiring the shelter to include what was essentially a list of best practices, and also to include a 500-foot buffer zone between any existing shelters and new shelters.

The latter was added when a group of Brunswick residents in “growth residential district six,” the area west of Union Street to the Mill Street, Route One intersection an north of Cedar street, came out in force to the planning board public hearing, claiming that with the existing Cumberland Street Shelter they are already supporting more than their fair share of the town’s homeless and low-income populations.

The group requested that the “non-apartment style” shelters, being dormitory or barracks-style, not be allowed in their district– the district is the only traditionally residential neighborhood in town that would be zoned for an additional such shelter. Members said they were concerned about the greater implications of another single style shelter, including public safety.

Councilor Jane Millett said at Wednesday’s meeting that a 500-foot buffer zone is not enough. Many of the streets in the area are at least 800 feet long, meaning that there could be “two on any block.”

Attorney Kevin Haley, representing a group of residents in the district, suggested that a 1,000 buffer would be more appropriate, especially given that the existing shelter will still be in place. He added that his clients felt it was a mistake to take out so many of the performance standards, given that not all operations in the future are guaranteed to be as well-run as Tedford.

Many others spoke during Wednesday night’s public comment period, reiterating concerns about public safety and the character of the neighborhood.

Councilor Steve Walker though said he thought many issues seen in the community were proof that the town needs more services to help the homeless populations.

“We need to have a little more compassion,” he said.

The next town council workshop on the issue will address the question of performance standards, the possibility of using available land on the former Navy base, and a zoning oversight that could potentially allow for a 200 person shelter in some areas, among other topics.

Any new zoning ordinance will not affect Tedford’s current emergency housing units on Federal and Cumberland streets as those facilities are grandfathered in.

Council chairman John Perreault said he hopes they can leave next week’s workshop with a recommendation to move forward with a public hearing.

The conversation continues at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 7

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