The Denver Rescue Mission broke ground on a new community center to serve the homeless at 17th and Lawrence streets this week, and city officials came out in force to mark the occasion. But the Ballpark Neighborhood Association, which has fought the project, calls that groundbreaking "premature."
"BNA continues to oppose this expansion because this project does not direct our community's limited resources to address the root cause of homelessness and because this proposed project is an expansion of services, which are not allowable under the current zoning code without a special use permit, which would require a true public process," says Bryan Slekes, BNA president. "From our perspective, the issuance of a building permit and breaking ground on the project seems a bit premature."
As proposed, the new community center will serve as an outdoor day shelter for the homeless; the 11,000 square-foot facility will include a courtyard, as well as bathroom and shower facilities and a larger kitchen to serve meals. It will also be a place where the homeless population can wait for the overnight shelter lottery, rather than lining the streets.
Last fall, the BNA sought to halt the new community center through the city's zoning process, arguing that the shelter -- a separate building from the Denver Rescue Mission's current overnight shelter and kitchen facility, Lawrence Street Shelter -- is an expansion of services, not a new development, and therefore subject to a more public process. But since the zoning department had approved the project, it said the community center didn't require a public hearing, and in November, the Zoning Board of Adjustments upheld that decision.
Slekes says the neighborhood still hopes to get a hearing with the city: "We are seeking a ruling from the Denver District Court that this expansion is not a compliant use under the Denver zoning code."
The BNA insists the dispute with the Denver Rescue Mission is not about additional homeless services in the neighborhood, which has been growing and gentrifying. Slekes says the group wants to work with the DRM, but also wants to see zoning rules upheld.
"As it always has been, it is our intention to work with the Rescue Mission, the neighborhood, and the city to end homelessness in Denver," he says. "We are committed to finding workable solutions to the issue that have plagued this neighborhood for some time now. We strongly believe that the current project is impermissible under the law and we intend to keep all of our options open."
But in the meantime, work has begun on the new center.
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