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A Neighborhood Fighting to Enforce Zoning (1 viewing) (1) Guests
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TOPIC: A Neighborhood Fighting to Enforce Zoning
rbowers ()
Neighborhood Activist
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A Neighborhood Fighting to Enforce Zoning 8 Years, 8 Months ago  
In early 2005 an agency bought a former church in the Toumey Park N at the corner of Eastland and Swan. The agency is called the Compassion Hope Center, part of the alleged charity called the Giving Tree, and the LLC GT Outreach Inc.

In mid 2005, the agency distributed a flyer in the N claiming to be working with TUSD on providing meals during the summer to children on "free lunch" and distributing food and goods to the homeless and needy. A check with TUSD revealed that the agency had nothing to do with TUSD, and that TUSD had problems with this agency in another N, but deferred on discussing "for legal reasons." This was not the first misrepresentation of the purpose of the agency, but was dismissed by the agency director as a error by her staff (she had no staff).

Here are the problems about this agency reported by neighbors in 2007 and forward:
CHC being used as a shelter; possibly also a rented duplex next door.
Clients from CHC sleeping in the park.
Clients from CHC loitering in the neighborhood.
Clients from CHC using drugs in the park.
Clients from CHC inappropriately approaching children and neighbors at homes, on streets and at bus stops.
Fear of neighborhood children and families using the park to avoid confrontations.
Clients of CHC loitering at bus stops to the point where children would not use them, and Sun Tran relaocted one with no effect.
Clients of CHC having sex openly behind a neighbor's house.
A business in the neighborhood harassed by aggressive panhandling.
Clients of the CHC smoking, drinking and using drugs on private properties and in utility easements, leaving trash.
Clients of CHC harassing people in their homes at very late (or early) hours.

The biggest problem which this agency presents is the operation of a continuous nightly shelter for the homeless, which the limited exemption from the LUC does not permit. After nearly 3 years of complaints to the City we are close to resolving that problem. The City has not always been cooperative through this process, and at one point issued an opinion that the shelter operation could continue. A City Team was held in June 2008 regarding this agency. In April 2009 a night inspection of the property verified the shelter operation, as well as unsafe and crowded conditions. The Certificate of Occupancy was revoked. The agency appealed to DSD but was denied. A Board of Appeals hearing was scheduled but was continued. First, the Board of Appeals cannot grant a use which the LUC does not permit. Secondly, the City wants a written agreement with the agency specifying what activities can and cannot be performed at the property, and particularly not a shelter operation.

Why am I putting this here? I want other N leaders to see what our N has gone through to eliminate a serious problem. It has required 3 years of persistent complaints and work with the City. Other info below provides more detail on the history.

Bob Bowers, Chair
Toumey Park NA

Email to Sandy Rathbun, Reporter, KVOA-TV4

August 14

Hi, Sandy. I was at the hearing this afternoon but did not identify myself to you (was sitting behind you). After the hearing, when you were interviewing Ernie Duarte. I heard you ask him where the homeless people are supposed to go who have been staying at the GT's agency at 4650 E Eastland.

I think the shoe is "on the other foot" for the Giving Tree to answer why they thought they could operate a homeless shelter at that property without a proper CofO to do so, and whatever licensing would be required. It isn't possible that they did not know that they could not have a shelter operation as our neighborhood had informed Wright in person and in writing of information given to us by the City. At our March 2008 neighborhood meeting Wright claimed, after denying several times at the same meeting that there was a homeless shelter operation, that they could offer shelter because they are a church, and "This is America. We can do what we want."

I would also ask you, have you seen the property? Have you seen the pictures taken by TPD and the inspection team? The building has 2000 sq ft inside. The front portion or about 700 sq ft is taken up by a commercial kitchen and food storage. About 200 sq ft are the bathrooms and showers added in 2006 or 2007 to the east side of the building. There is also an office in the building. DSD claims they found 50 people sleeping there, and crowded and unsafe conditions. Wright says that is not true, however she had claimed to the media previously as many as 80-100 people staying there at night.

The CofO issued to the GT in 2005 is for religious assembly, and an occupancy for that purpose of 108 people. They are also permitted to have auxiliary services such as helping the needy, feeding the needy. On at least 2 occasions, the GT needed to update its CofO but did not; when they installed the commercial kitchen in 2005/6 and when they added showers in 2006 or 2007.

Our neighborhood first became aware of a continuous homeless shelter operation in the building when KOLD broadcast from the building one night in November 2006. When I questioned City of Tucson Zoning about whether a shelter operation could be operated there, I was told that it could not. Our neighborhood did not follow up further at that time as when I visited the agency shortly after, the staff there told me they were not continuing the shelter program (but they were). Our neighborhood become aware again in early fall 2007 when we received many complaints about the property at our monthly meetings.

Is it a church? As a neighborhood association we hold the position that the claim to be a church is for the purpose of using the property and claiming its exemption from Land Use Code for religious assembly. The property is registered as commercial property with the Assessor. Tax returns filed with the State and IRS are as a non-profit and do not claim religious purpose or to be a church. The agency and its director (Wright) never claimed to be a church in discussions at our neighborhood meetings from June 2005 until March 2008. The people who attend the Bible studies held there have been forced to do so as a condition of staying there, according to those clients. They also pay $8.50 per night to stay there, or work 3 hours at the GT thrift shop at 22nd & Columbus. The agency also operates transitional housing in rented properties where they place up to 4 people in a bedroom and charge them $300 per month.

Why does our neighborhood _object_ to a homeless shelter operation? It has brought homeless people into our neighborhood on a daily basis, and to live in our neighborhood. In the last half of 2007, and first half of 2008, in a report from TPD crime statistics given to a City Team called in June 2008 about the 4650 E Eastland property, it was shown that 50% of the police incidents occurring in our neighborhood were within a one block radius of the 4650 E Eastland property.

We do not _object_ to helping the homeless or to having shelters for the homeless, but they belong in places with proper and adequate space and facilities, and not within neighborhoods.

Bob Bowers, Chair
Toumey Park Neighborhood Association

Letter to the Editor, Tucson Weekly

August 23

Claim: Why the Giving Tree was Cited

Lyn Olsen's letter in the 8/20 issue of TW wants you to believe that the conditions found by a City inspection team in April at the Giving Tree's (GT Outreach) Compassion Hope Center, 4650 E. Eastland, were unusual, as a result somehow of Upward Bound working with the agency. People who live in our neighborhood can tell you that people sleeping outside and large numbers inside were normal, both by observation and from discussions with clients of the agency. GT Director Wright claimed to the media earlier in the year to be giving shelter to as many as 80-100 people per night. In the 7/21 Daily Star she claimed feeding an incredulous 7000 a week, whereas earlier she had stated 1000 to the media.

The GT/CHC lost its Certificate of Occupancy because they were in violation of the City Land Use Code for the zoning of the property and their limited exemption from the zoning. The property is located within neighborhoods and is zoned R1 Residential as are the surrounding neigborhoods. The agency had an exemption for religious assembly, which also permits it to feed the homeless and needy, and to distribute food and goods. It does not however permit the operation of a continuous nightly shelter for the homeless, and particularly where clients are charged for staying there. When the City team visited they also found, and documented with photos, unsafe crowded conditions and people sleeping in exits and doorways as well as outside. The most likely reason for the inspection and findings is that our neighborhood has filed multiple complaints about the homeless shelter operation since late 2006.

Lyn Olsen also wants you to believe that the people staying there are all good people, though homeless. Without going into a lot of detail, our experience in our neighborhood is that many of the people living there were not good people. We sent a letter of complaint to Wright in October 2007 detailing many complaints and incidents. Statistics were presented to a City Team held in June 2008 showing that 50% of the police incidents in our neighborhood were occurring within a one block radius of the agency. Such problems also occurred to a lesser degree in the Rosemont West neighborhood directly east across Swan from the agency.

Our neighborhood has no _object_ion to helping and feeding the homeless, however it needs to be done in a place with the proper space and facilities. The building in question is 2000 sq ft livable space of which roughly half is commercial kitchen, food storage, bathrooms and an office. Certainly not space to sleep 50 people as found by the City, or even 15-20. In addition, the charity charged those who could pay $7 per night plus $1.50 for the showers, or 3 hours work. Such a facility also should not be located inside neighborhoods, with the clients dispersed into the alleys, utility easements and washes during the daytime. This is not a "NIMBY" issue, but one of safety and security for neighborhoods and application of existing City regulations regarding safety and zoning.

The City is unable to deal with the issue of whether this agency is a church. As long as an organization can present the correct information about their activities, they can obtain limited exemption from zoning for religious assembly. The Land Use Code defines that the primary use of the property must be for religious assembly. It is the latter which the City needs to be able to examine. To our neighborhood, the primary use observed was the operation of a continuous nightly shelter for the homeless and little evidence of religious assembly. We had sometimes in the past seen worship services being held, have been told of Bible studies and educational classes, but no one recalls seeing weddings or funerals as claimed. The City's codes must enforce proper use within zoning regulations and not allow misuse or abuse by virtue of the premise of claiming religious exemption. Not examining the issue of whether an organization is truly one with the primary purpose of religious assembly leaves the door open for a lot of abuse, and neighborhoods subject to harm.

Bob Bowers, Chair

Toumey Park Neighborhood Association

Neighborhood Activist
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Last Edit: 2009/08/23 20:28 By rbowers.
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