County OKs plan to build shelter Site for the homeless dependent on agency obtaining federal aid

December 16, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Sheridan Lyons and Donna R. Engle contributed to this article.

After months of protest and false starts, the County Commissioners signed an agreement yesterday with Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. to build a new shelter for the homeless.

The memorandum of understanding does not mention a site, but officials say the project is dependent upon the private, nonprofit agency receiving federal aid to help build the facility on county-owned Crowltown property, which is beside Longwell Run near Center Street at Route 140 in Westminster. Approval for the grants could take up to three months.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said that he was concerned initially that the county public works staff seemed to have been left out of the process but that he is satisfied with yesterday's agreement.

"We've nailed down our involvement with the engineering and design, so I think we're OK," he said. "But I'm disappointed that it's going to take so long with the environmental stuff."

The county anticipates favorable replies to letters sent to state environmental agencies Nov. 24 notifying them of plans to build a shelter on the Crowltown site. But environmental impact studies and the need for a new grant mean that the shelter probably will not be ready "until this time next year," Dell said.

County Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he is frustrated by the delay. "We've been back and forth with the county and the city and various agencies" for years, he said. "I just want to get this thing going."

Although the state Department of the Environment is assessing the county's site plan for possible impact on the Longwell Run -- where the county recently spent more than $634,000 in state and federal environmental grants and county money for watershed improvements -- Westminster has not received a copy of the county's plans, said Thomas B. Beyard, the city's director of planning and public works.

Unlike with other projects in the Westminster area in the past 10 years -- schools, county office buildings, the health department, the senior center and the county jail -- the county has not filed anything with the city regarding the Crowltown property, Beyard said.

"First of all, they need to submit a site plan as they have on every other site in the city," Beyard said. "Until you have a plan, how can anybody intelligently respond on any issue? Until I have a plan that I have sent to the state for review and told it is in compliance, I am not going to put my signature on anything."

The county and the city have been arguing about the shelter since July, when the commissioners abandoned a site on Stoner Avenue near the existing shelter after residents complained.

City officials objected strenuously to the change, but to no avail. The commissioners reaffirmed their commitment to the site at Route 140 and Center Street after rejecting 26 other locations.

Ken Pensyl, an environmental department administrator, said the state has not yet drawn any conclusions about the environmental impact of the shelter.

"They normally would have gone out and hired a consultant to assess that there is no [adverse] environmental impact, no wetlands affected, no endangered species affected," Pensyl said.

Meanwhile, county officials are moving ahead and negotiating a new contract to design and build a shelter on the Crowltown site.

The county wants a 4,000-square-foot facility that would provide a cold weather sanctuary, house a men's shelter for about eight people and serve as a shelter for people who are homeless because of mental illness or substance abuse. All are services the county must provide, according to state law.

The county has been looking for a new site for the shelter since 1994, when Carroll County General Hospital agreed to buy the current shelter property. The sale has not been completed, however, and will not be until a new shelter is built.

Human Services Programs had received a federal grant to build a shelter on Stoner Avenue but must apply for one on the Crowltown property.

Yesterday's memorandum of understanding calls for the county to spend $72,754.50 from its capital budget and use $125,188 from the sale of the current shelter to help build the new shelter. Human Services agrees in the memorandum to provide $125,188 in grant money to aid construction.

Pub Date: 12/16/97

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