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Denver Rescue Mission v. Neighborhood Association: Will Community Center Be OK'd?

Tomorrow, the Denver Board of Adjustment for Zoning will announce whether or not construction on the Denver Rescue Mission's new community center can move forward as planned. The Ballpark Neighborhood Association had appealed the city's okay for the construction of a 11,800 square-foot facility behind DRM's current Lawrence Street Shelter at the intersection of Lawrence Street and Park Avenue West, and argued its case before the zoning board last month.

See also: Are the Homeless Ruining Brunch for Ballpark Neighborhood Yuppies?

At that hearing, Ballpark lawyer David Foster, of Foster Graham Milstein & Calisher, claimed the permit was invalid because the city pressured the zoning department to grant permission for the new development. He argued that the city influenced DRM to change its application from an "expansion of services" to a community center, which allowed the city and DRM to circumvent a public hearing.

Foster told the board that the neighborhood group filed its appeal because of a perceived inconsistency in the zoning process; the neighbors wanted to have a public conversation of the project, not necessarily prevent a homeless center in the area.

As envisioned, the new center would include a larger kitchen and dining hall that could feed about 220 individuals per meal, a courtyard for daytime shelter, bathrooms and showers. It would not include additional shelter beds -- the main function of the current Denver Rescue Mission Lawrence Street shelter. The kitchen in the shelter feeds about seventy people per meal; if the community center is built, the current, smaller kitchen would be used for special events and candidates in the DRM's New Life Program, which helps adults regain their lives.

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The Ballpark Neighborhood also argued that DRM is noncompliant in its current use permit because around 300 people can sleep there each night, instead of the 200 allowed in the zoning code. But the DRM has permission to host these additional people, according to spokeswoman Alexxa Gagner. During an emergency, the organization can add beds to the shelter, and the city has been in an ongoing state of emergency because of the lack of shelter beds, she says.

The homeless around the Lawrence Street Shelter have been displaced since several nearby parks, most notably Triangle Park, have been closed off, sending people into the surrounding neighborhood. The city and DRM say they hope that a new, enclosed courtyard would give these individuals a place to sit and rest during the day without violating any laws, and also protect them from drug dealers and prostitutes that are known to prey on individuals in that area.

"The courtyard will dignify the homeless, allowing men and women an opportunity to take a shower, get a drink of water and rest their feet," says Brad Meuli, DRM's president and CEO. "It will also give us a chance to connect people to services, and [add] a more efficient space to provide thousands of meals."

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