Batesville Planning Commission tables permit for homeless shelter

Batesville Planning Commission tables permit for homeless shelter

BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) - The Batesville Planning Commission met Monday night to discuss a conditional use permit to turn a home on Lyon Street into a transitional house for homeless families.

The property in question, located at 1609 Lyon Street, was discussed for 2 hours Monday night before the commission unanimously voted to wait a month to receive more information about the home.

The Community Enrichment Organization, CEO, applied for the permit last month.

According to a pamphlet handed out at the meeting, the program, called A Step Forward would "create a community where the homeless, hungry and impoverished are acknowledged and supported by a united community."

CEO members include roughly 40 Batesville residents and community leaders including Mayor Rick Elumbaugh and the CEO of White River Medical Center, Gary Bebow.

"It has become increasingly apparent at the hospital that we have a large group of homeless people in Batesville," Bebow said. "There's no one size fits all remedy to this problem. One thing is clear. The availability of a home environment is important as a part of this solution."

Members of school districts, banks and other businesses in Batesville are also involved with CEO.

If a conditional use permit is granted, A Step Forward plans to house up to four families in the five bedroom, two bath house.

Families could stay for three to 6 months. After that, they would be assisted in finding employment through organizations involved with CEO, such as the University of Arkansas Community College Batesville.

"UACCB has both long-term, short-term workforce training programs that we will make available to any family if you would allow this residence to become a family shelter," UACCB Chancellor Deborah Frazier said. "I see individuals who have only one need and that is the need for a little bit of advanced education, soft-skill training or just that training that would give them a step forward and that's what UACCB pledges to do in partnership with A Step Forward."

A Step Forward also has stipulations laid out for families who would live there.

Sexual predator background checks and drug tests would be conducted. A curfew would also be in place.

Though that information was presented Monday night, commissioners still had questions regarding the conditional use permit application.

Multiple Batesville residents also had concerns.

"I think that a conditional use permit is scary," Leslie Reed said. "It's something that once it's allowed, it's an open book. If something doesn't go as well as planned with this plan that's been created, the rules may change. As the rules change, the tenants may change, the risks may change."

Reed presented 150 signatures from other Batesville residents in opposition of the permit.

She and others who spoke before the commission stated that they wanted to help the homeless; they just felt that 1609 Lyon Street was not the place to do it.

"I am not at all against the proposal," Reed said. "There is a need in Batesville and I think it is a good idea. It's a wonderful mission. I do think it's something that could be great for our a different location."

Reed also voiced concerns over parking and traffic.

After 2 hours, the commission unanimously voted to table the issue until January 4. They stated they wanted more information from CEO and A Step Forward regarding site plans for parking and a fire escape.

They also wanted a better description for the use of the property laid out in the permit application.

According to A Step Forward Director Autumn Hunter, they applied as a "homeless shelter" because "transitional housing facility" was not an available option.

Following the meeting, Hunter said she felt they could easily meet the requests of the commission by their next meeting.

"The public had some valid concerns and we will definitely provide what the zoning commission has requested and move forward again on January 4," Hunter said. "As long as we can come to a conclusion together, then I believe it will take another step in the right direction toward meeting this need."

Reed told Region 8 News she was happy to see the commission ask multiple questions and hoped more discussion could take place over the next month.

"I feel like there are other opportunities in Batesville where this could take place to help people and also for the rest of us to feel respected," Reed said.

The next meeting will take place Monday, January 4 at 6:30 p.m. at Batesville City Hall.

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