Village Council overrode two Board of Zoning Appeals recommendations as some neighbors decry location of housing shelter.
A plan by local nonprofit Love Our Community to convert the former Lake Center Christian School into apartments for the homeless is on hold.
Hartville Village Council on Tuesday night overrode two Board of Zoning Appeals recommendations that would have allowed the group a variance for a “community development” project on fewer than 10 acres and allow the operation in a residential zone.
A third variance, granting a 16-foot rear setback, was approved.
Kelli Viscounte, founder and executive director of Love Our Community, said community support for the project at 1116 Woodland St. SW had been good.
“I was completely surprised,” she said of the vote. “It’s frustrating.”
“We are going to continue to explore options,” she said. “We are going to continue to do all we can, legally, with the building. The building gave us more of an ability to create relationships and change, but our mission is still the same.”
The Christian nonprofit was formed in 2018 by Viscounte, former RiverTree Lake Church outreach coordinator, to meet the housing, food, clothing and counseling needs of Lake Township residents. Viscounte said its efforts have been made possible by the community taking ownership, with “hundreds of thousands” of dollars donated and thousands of volunteers.
The group has assisted with victims of house fires through its Clothing Closet program, as well as summer meals and a Christmas event.
The 50-year-old building was purchased by the group through donations, Viscounte said. She added the long-range goal is for Love Our Community groups to spread elsewhere.
The plan for the building included a full-time “anchor family” living on the ground floor, with four apartments upstairs, one a studio “emergent need” apartment for those facing a crises such as a house fire.
Plans also called for a common area and a commercial kitchen, which Viscounte said would be used by other groups.
The anchor family would be there to act as the responsible party as well as provide a family environment that Viscounte said would be more beneficial than other transient housing situations.
Other proposed uses at the building included The Hope Café, a space for job training and to provide breakfast for students eligible for free or reduced lunch and a possible mobile meal service for families; free washers and dryers for families involved with the organization; public restrooms, including a handicap-accessible shower; and an out building to be transformed into offices for medical visits or counseling.
Viscounte said she hopes to have the opportunity to have more discussions with residents who packed Village Hall Tuesday night to oppose the effort.
“These are people who are already in the community,” she said of those Love Our Community serves. “We will not be bringing people in from other communities; we are serving those who are already here. There is a need. We want to be good neighbors.”
Wagler Avenue resident Larry Kayla expressed concern about the possible public restrooms and laundry facilities and questioned whether offering housing to Lake Township residents only violates fair housing laws.
His wife, Carol, said she and her husband also are concerned with Love Our Community tenants cutting through their lawn.
“We worked hard and made good decisions to live as we do,” she said. “We are proud of our condo association. Now to have this plopped into our back yard.”
Other residents asked if the property would have adequate parking and said they were concerned that the house could draw a criminal element.
“If history has shown anything, it’s that homeless shelters will decay our neighborhoods,” said Tom Ciress, a Wagler Avenue resident . “If Hartville wants to remain great, it must not allow homeless shelters in the neighborhoods.”
Wagler Avenue resident and school counselor Jennifer Millhoan said she was completely in support of Love Our Community’s mission but did not agree with the house being located in a residential area.
Voices of support
Lake Local Schools Superintendent Kevin Tobin expressed support for the Love Our Community home.
“We will hold (residents) to high standards, and they will hold themselves to high standards,” Tobin said. “I think many people are picturing a terrible halfway house in an urban environment.”
Hartville Police Chief Larry Dordea added that police and fire would continue to respond to resident calls of any potential crimes or emergencies.
“We are not going to allow people running through your yards. But sometimes the fear of change is greater than the change, so I ask you not to prejudge,” Dordea said. “We serve you, but that doesn’t mean we don’t also serve them.”