Opponents of a proposed homeless shelter for West Street in Annapolis took their case to court yesterday, but a judge said he will not rule for at least five weeks.
A minister involved with the shelter, Vernon L. Thompson, called the delay "distressing." The shelter is being temporarily housed in an Annapolis church that is scheduled for renovation. "It's going to cause some problems," said Thompson, pastor at the Calvary United Methodist Church and a leader in Annapolis Area Ministries Inc., a coalition of six churches in the city. "I'm not sure what's going to happen in these fall months."
The coalition was formed two years ago for the purpose of creating a shelter. The Light House shelter, which has moved from church to church while awaiting a permanent site, provides 12 beds and evening meals for the homeless four nights a week at the historic Charles Carroll House, owned by St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church in Annapolis.
Two neighborhood groups, the Inner West Street Association and the Presidents Hill Community Association, are challenging the city's Board of Appeals, which voted 2-2 to approve the shelter's plans. The vote, in June, let stand a March decision by the city's Department of Planning and Zoning that approved the shelter.
A suit was filed in September in county Circuit Court.The site under dispute is at 202-206 West St., formerly the home of the Capitol Convenience store.
Wayne T. Kosmerl, attorney for the neighborhood groups, argued yesterday that planning officials misinterpreted the city zoning code for "mixed-use" districts.
In approving the shelter because it is a "philanthropic institution providing services to the general public," the planners erred because the section of the code containing that phrase applies to food service facilities, Kosmerl argued. The lawyer said the section was designed to "legitimize" a soup kitchen in the district. He said the planned shelter should be considered a rooming house for zoning purposes.
Homeless shelters are not explicitly addressed in the code. A rooming house would be prohibited in a mixed-use area.
At one point during Kosmerl's argument, Circuit Judge Martin A. Wolff said, "They're kind of like prisons. We need them, but don't put them in my community. . . That's what you're saying."
Kosmerl said, "No matter how admirable or noble your intentions, you're expanding that section (of the code) beyond what was intended."
Benjamin Michaelson Jr., attorney for the Annapolis Area Ministries, said the section of the code in question was designed to address, in addition to the soup kitchen, a Goodwill store, and was thus not intended to regulate only food services. He said a rooming house, as defined under the code, accepts money for boarding. The Light House does not charge for a bed and a meal.
Michaelson also said the shelter, in the interest of being "good neighbors," had agreed to standards including a prohibition against alcohol abusers in the shelter. He said the shelter will be open only at night, but he said two apartments -- one for an executive director of the facility and another for emergency housing for families -- are planned.
Wolff said he would not rule on the matter until mid-December because he needs time to research the issues and is scheduled for a three-week vacation.