HARTVILLE The nonprofit has plans for the former Lake Center Christian School.
For nearly a year, a Lake Township nonprofit’s plans have been on hold.
Love Our Community purchased the former Lake Center Christian School last year with plans to transform the decaying building into a place of hope for needy Lake Township families.
The Christian nonprofit wants to turn the former school on Woodland Street SW into the Love Our Community House. Part of the building would be temporary apartments, where families and individuals could live while they get back on their feet.
At the center of the housing model would be an “anchor family” who would live on site, manage the building and cultivate a relationship with its occupants.
In April, that plan hit a roadblock. Hartville Village Council rejected a zoning variance that would have designated the site a community development project and allowed the creation of multi-family housing.
The variance was recommended by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We were blindsided,” founder and Executive Director Kelli Viscounte said.
The organization went through all the right channels, and community support for the project was, and still is, strong, she said.
Love Our Community is going back to the village to get the project back on track.
Hartville’s Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend a change to the site’s zoning from R-2 (one and two family residential) to R-3 (multi-family residential) usage.
The zoning change will head back to village council for final approval, likely sometime next month.
“We just need to able to get to work,” Viscounte said.
April’s Village Council meeting was packed with residents who spoke against the project, according to past Repository coverage.
Speakers raised concerns about safety, parking, possible damage to nearby properties and the presence of laundry and public restrooms.
Many of those concerns are based on misconceptions, Viscounte said.
“We want to make sure that all the questions are answered. We want to make sure that if someone is fearful, they have the correct information. I think some decisions were made off misinformation,” she said.
Homelessness and housing insecurity remain in Lake Township, she said.
“And sometimes the unknown is scary,” she said. “We absolutely positively empathize and know where folks are coming from.”
Viscounte is clear about what house is not.
It’s not a homeless shelter. It’s not a halfway house or a recovery house -- those struggling with addiction would be connected to other organizations, she said.
Housing would be limited to those who have a Lake Township connection, someone who lives or works or worships in the township. And the model is based on building relationships, tenants couldn’t just walk in off the street and move in. They first go through extensive vetting, she said.
The organization scrapped plans for laundry facilities -- the washers and dryers were never intended as a public laundromat, she added -- and a public restroom with a shower, which had been incorrectly likened to a bathhouse, she said.
They’ve also dropped plans for a cafe where folks could receive job training or students could grab breakfast before school.
These changes were based on community feedback, she said.
“Our goal is to be the best neighbors we can,” she said.
The housing project may be stuck in a holding pattern, but Love Our Community hasn’t been.
The volunteer-driven organization served 115 families and nearly 300 kids with its annual Community Christmas program. In a few months, they’ll start back up their summer meals program. Its annual egg hunt is set for April 11.
The organization also gathers clothing and distribute it through an emergency clothing closet and a thrift store at Hartville Marketplace. Recently, they held a garage sale.
The organization assists with emergency housing through a partnership with a local hotel, and has helped with utility shut-off notices and other financial emergencies, she said.
Viscounte knows there is more they can do. The house is integral to making the organization sustainable long-term.
She’s hopeful that this time, they’ll get the green light.
“I think in the end we all want the same thing ... In the end, we all want to be a great community and a place where people thrive.”