BRUNSWICK — As the town council weighs whether to extend its moratorium on homeless shelter development in Brunswick, it may be at least two more winters before Tedford Housing can build its new shelter and resource center it’s been dreaming of for more than a year, said Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing. 

Council members scheduled a public hearing March 4 to discuss whether to extend its moratorium on shelters, which expires March 24, to July 1 to give councilors more time to develop a local zoning rules and performance standards for shelters.

Craig Phillips, Tedford Housing’s executive director (file photo)

More than a year after Tedford officials first approached the town with plans for the 70-person shelter and resource center, there have been many shelter task force meetings, a moratorium extension, lengthy planning board meetings, public hearings and town council workshops. The process continues to grind on.

The list of places where Tedford could build a new shelter is shrinking, as councilors tentatively agreed in a straw poll at the last workshop to prohibit new shelters in any residential zones. The existing facilities, a singles shelter on Cumberland Street and a family shelter on Federal Street, are grandfathered in and would not be impacted by the new ordinance.

Phillips is concerned though, that “when all is said and done there may not be a spot in Brunswick” where they can build the shelter they had planned and will likely have to “start virtually all over again.”

“It’s looking grim,” he said.

Tedford has operated in the community for decades, but town officials are concerned that another group with less experience or trust in the community might try to open a shelter, and are therefore careful to note that whatever zoning ordinance they create will serve Brunswick for the foreseeable future.

For some councilors, that includes drafting a list of performance standards, set to be discussed further in yet another workshop, which would regulate how, and when, shelters could be run. To Phillips though, there are some concerns that over-regulation may get in the way of how they do businesses. “Some standards are understandable,” he said, but when it comes to hours of operations (the singles shelter currently closes during the day) or people’s smoking habits, it gets closer to micromanaging, he said.

At an earlier meeting, councilor Steve Walker cautioned against over-regulating. “We keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing down” where the shelters can go and how they can operate, he said.

The zoning discussions have grinding along since last year, when Tedford’s project was halted because the town realized it didn’t have any ordinances regulating homeless shelters, despite the fact that Tedford had been operating in town for decades.

The public hearing on whether to extend the moratorium to July 1 is March 4. The next council workshop remains unscheduled.

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