County plans new shelter Commissioners want facility for homeless built on Route 140 site

'Made their decision'

'Position statement' catches city officials, agency by surprise

October 03, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF xTC Sun staff writer Jackie Powder contributed to this article.

The County Commissioners said yesterday they intend to build a homeless shelter behind a convenience store on Route 140 near Center Street in Westminster.

The only way that wouldn't occur, they said, was if Westminster enters a partnership with a local human service agency and "assumes responsibility for constructing the shelter elsewhere" -- something city officials and the executive director of the nonprofit agency that runs the current shelter say is unlikely.

The commissioners made the announcement in a 35-word "position statement" issued without comment at their weekly news conference yesterday. It took city officials and Sylvia Canon, executive director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., by surprise.

The county must find a new site for the shelter soon or lose a $1 million federal grant.

Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan said he had heard rumors three days ago that the county was "somehow trying to turn the grant over to us."

But sidestepping the county and forming a partnership with Westminster is not a simple matter, given the terms of the grant, Canon said. The grant calls for the county to pay half the construction costs for the $250,376 shelter, she said, and Carroll officials had offered to donate the site and services of the building construction bureau.

"I don't know whether the city can and will do all that because I haven't asked them," Canon said. "I didn't think I needed to."

Yowan said Westminster does not have money for such a project even if it were appropriate for the city to undertake it.

Maintaining the homeless shelter is a county function, he said.

Yowan said he thinks the commissioners are trying to kill the project. He finds it odd that the commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday night to talk about the new shelter site when "it appears on the basis of their statement that they have already made their decision."

"The way in which they are handling this is very -- I'm trying to think of a different word -- bizarre," he said. "Every day is something different."

Westminster officials had been working with the commissioners nearly a year on plans to move the Safe Haven homeless shelter to county-owned land nearby, next to the Senior Activities Center on Stoner Avenue, Yowan said.

"We thought we had a good working relationship with the county, but for some reason, that seems to have gone by the wayside," he said.

Yowan and other Westminster officials learned of a change in the county's thinking when they "read in the newspaper" two months ago that the commissioners had abandoned Stoner Avenue and were planning to put the center on the county-owned Crowlton property on Center Street, he said. Crowlton is between the county office building and a convenience store.

Since then, Yowan said, he has learned about shifts in county plans indirectly -- on a radio program in which two commissioners talked about it, and "like today, hearing the news from a reporter."

Canon said: "I didn't know the County Commissioners were going to say that. I don't know what caused the change."

As recently as last week, city officials had thought they were about to conclude an agreement with the county that would have put the shelter on an old waste-water treatment site the city owns on Goodwin's Quarry Road.

A Sept. 25 letter to the commissioners from city Public Works Director Thomas B. Beyard outlined steps the city would take to make the site amenable and thanked the commissioners for "a very productive meeting" and visit to the Quarry Road site that day.

The city agreed in Beyard's letter to lease the site to the county, make road improvements, bring water to the site and work with state and county officials "to develop future sidewalk improvements" along Route 27.

But when asked yesterday why the Goodwin's Quarry Road site was rejected, county Public Works Director J. Michael Evans said it was because the site didn't have water or sidewalks and is farther from services than Crowlton.

"Telling people that it's a short cut to walk down railroad tracks [because of the lack of sidewalks] is not a good idea," he said. "Crossing 140 and walking down 97 is not high on my safety list, either."

When told of Evans' explanation, Yowan rejected it as "just another smoke screen." The real reason is that the

commissioners "probably got more letters and phone calls from people in the Quarry Road area," Yowan said.

Beyard agreed. "If you're looking to score political points, building homeless shelters is not the way to put warm fuzzies in people's hearts," he said.

Finding a site for the shelter is "not without problems," Beyard said, but "the obligation rests with the county to do this project."

Beyard was livid about yesterday's decision, not so much for what was decided as the way it was decided.

"We've heard complaints about the [Crowlton] site, but I guess the commissioners haven't heard from those people, since they made the decision without a public hearing and without public input," he said. "We worked with the county to find an appropriate location," but "the jury is still out on whether [Crowlton] is appropriate since the commissioners have not heard from the public."

Beyard had thought Tuesday's meeting was to hear public comment about the Goodwin's Quarry Road site, but "now, I don't have a clue about what it's about."

The commissioners' "biggest mistake was in the beginning, when they gave consent to moving the site of the homeless shelter without settling on a new one," Yowan said.

"That's like resigning before you have another job," he said.

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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