Board Rules Against Men At Shelter

September 15, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The County Council has denied permission for the county's only shelter for homeless and abused women to accept male residents.

Sittingas the Board of Zoning Appeals, the council voted 5-0 Tuesday with two abstentions to uphold a county hearing examiner's March 15 opinionthat Forward Step Inc. would dramatically change the original concept of the facility if it began housing men.

The board voted with no discussion among members on the issue.

John Gessner, a lawyer with the firm of Venable, Baetjer & Howard inBel Air who represents Edgewood-based Forward Step, said Wednesday he would file an appeal to the Circuit Court within the next 30 days.

"I look forward to having a judge review the record and the law," said Gessner.

"We met the proper burden of proof. There is no evidence which would justify denial of our request."

In his arguments before the zoning appeals board, Gessner said neither the shelter's financial status nor Rev. J. William McNally's operation of the shelter as its executive director were at issue.

"The issue is whether allowing men will meet the standard in the zoning code," said Gessner."The fact that this is a sex-based discussion, about whether the shelter could care for women but not men, violates the Maryland Equal Rights Amendment."

Gessner said the male boarders would receive the same counseling as women at the shelter had received.

B. Daniel Riley, an Edgewood resident who has led area citizens' opposition to the project, told the appeals board that battered wives, rape victims and other women referred to the shelter would have very different types of problems than the male boarders McNally has accepted at the shelter.

He said the county needs a facility to help homeless and abused women.

Riley said he notified county zoning administrators lastyear the shelter had accepted men after he discovered an unidentified man wandering aimlessly in the road near the shelter and determinedthe man had been staying at Forward Step.

Riley said he was concerned about how such activity would affect the area community.

The shelter was cited by the county Department of Planning and Zoning in June 1990 for violating one of its zoning variances by accepting maleboarders. The shelter's zoning variance says "that the crisis centerbe for female residents only."

After the shelter was cited for the zoning violation, McNally applied for a variance so Forward Step could accept male boarders.

The shelter has been allowed to continueaccepting male residents until appeals on the zoning variance have been exhausted.

McNally has said the shelter began accepting male boarders referred by the Perry Point Veterans Administration Hospital in March 1990.

The retired Methodist minister said he accepted thereferrals as a way to generate revenue after the shelter's federal, state and county grant money was cut off.

Those grants -- about $43,000 -- were cut off by the county, which administers local grants, in February 1989 because of officials' concerns the shelter had not had yearly audits as required.

McNally's business card describes the Forward Step shelter as "transitional housing." He used to describeit as a shelter for abused and homeless women.

In March 1991, there were two women and nine men staying at the shelter. The number of men and women now residing at the shelter could not be determined.

Councilwoman Susan B. Heselton, R-District A, was absent from Tuesday's hearing.

Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, excusedherself from the hearing saying she was privy to additional information about the shelter due to her role as a member of the county's Emergency Food and Shelter committee.

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