Shelter site is reaffirmed by county Proposed location for Safe Haven has opposition in city

Search for alternative fails

Homeless facility must relocate to new quarters

November 11, 1997|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

The County Commissioners again voted to build a new homeless shelter near the County Office Building in Westminster yesterday, after being told that an exhaustive search for other sites had failed.

The commissioners unanimously decided on the site after a morning briefing with county and shelter officials. The new Safe Haven facility would be built on county-owned property behind a 7-Eleven convenience store on Route 140 -- the same spot the commissioners first announced in midsummer.

The commissioners sent a curt statement and a letter announcing their decision to Westminster Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan yesterday afternoon. The statement read: "The Board of County Commissioners remains firm in its decision to build the Safe Haven facility at the Crowltown site, behind the 7-Eleven store."

Until July, the new shelter had been planned for a county-owned site on Stoner Avenue near the existing facility. Then the commissioners announced that they would build the facility at Crowltown, saying they had received complaints about the planned site from Stoner Avenue residents.

The search was expanded last month after Westminster officials offered to help pay for shuttle-bus service in an attempt to resolve an increasingly heated dispute over a new location.

A search committee looked at 26 properties within five miles of Westminster without finding a viable site, said Jolene Sullivan, director of the county's Department of Citizen Services.

Further, she said, the city's transportation offer was based on an estimate of two 10-mile round trips a day -- but the actual demand would be "probably closer to 10 trips."

The higher cost of the shuttle service, coupled with the failure to find an alternative site, led to a consensus by the committee to recommend the Crowltown site, Sullivan said in a signed memorandum yesterday.

The search committee included Commissioner Donald I. Dell and Westminster Council President Edward S. Calwell, who volunteered to work with county and city staff members to find an acceptable site by Nov. 26.

Calwell and the city staff members did not attend the commissioners' briefing yesterday morning. A regular City Council meeting was scheduled last night.

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works and a search committee member, said they were not invited to yesterday's briefing.

'Consensus' disputed

Asked whether there was a consensus, Beyard said: "I can only (( tell you that that wasn't the position that I took. There were other possible alternatives -- land swaps and buying sites -- so this committee report certainly did not reflect the entire discussion that was held.

"To say that the consensus was that it be built at Crowltown may have been the county staff's consensus and Commissioner Dell's, but it certainly wasn't the consensus of myself."

Sullivan told the commissioners: "We did do an exhaustive search of all sites within the five-mile radius."

When Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown asked whether the city had agreed -- or resigned itself -- to putting the shelter at Crowltown, Sullivan responded: "They couldn't come up with a comparable site."

City officials, residents and businesses opposed the Crowltown plan.

The need for a new site arose with a 1994 agreement by Carroll County General Hospital to buy the current Safe Haven property. The sale cannot be finalized until a new shelter is built, hospital officials said.

About $322,000 has been designated to build a new shelter, Sullivan said, with part of the construction money coming from a $1.2 million federal grant that includes three years of operating expenses.

The pressure to find a site arose from a timetable with the grant -- which has the facility already built -- but state officials have said repeatedly that they intend to work with the county to see that the project succeeds. The grant does not expire until March 1999.

The shelter is operated by Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., a private, nonprofit agency. Safe Haven has 26 beds intended for the homeless mentally ill and substance abusers, and another eight slots for a rehabilitation program that lasts up to 12 weeks.

Sylvia Canon, the agency's executive director, told the commissioners that the state, like her agency, feels, "If they can get it approved, they're like I am: They don't care where it is."

Alternative sites reviewed

During the past week's search for an alternative, Sullivan said 26 new locations were considered. Starting at Main Street and Railroad Avenue, she said, the committee decided that five miles was about the farthest reasonable distance.

One site considered was near the John Owings landfill, but the county's public works director, J. Michael Evans, told the commissioners that it would cost about $125,000 to develop, and that there were problems with its water capacity and environmental concerns. A septic system, land clearing and a road would be needed.

Another idea was to have the city purchase the old Southern States property on Railroad Avenue and use a portion of the property for the shelter. In return, the county would deed the Crowltown property to the city for a park.

All the sites had problems, Sullivan said. Some were too expensive -- ranging from $200,000 to $800,000 -- and many properties close to the city were ruled out due to conflicts with a planned Westminster bypass.

As for the shuttle service, the original cost estimate for two 10-mile round trips per day was $12,000 to $24,000, plus the cost of a van. But Sullivan said the number of trips needed would be closer to 10, putting the cost nearer $31,000, plus fixed costs and vehicle replacement costs that would total $60,000 over 20 years.

City officials say there could be traffic and environmental constraints on the Crowltown property, which is beside Longwell Run, but Sullivan and Evans said they were told the issues would not cause problems.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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