Marietta approves MUST Ministries’ new homeless shelter plan

MUST Ministries President & CEO Dr Dwight “Ike” Reighard addresses the Marietta City Council during the meeting where the Council decided to grant his organization’s request to build a 130-bed new homeless shelter. PHIL SKINNER

MUST Ministries President & CEO Dr Dwight “Ike” Reighard addresses the Marietta City Council during the meeting where the Council decided to grant his organization’s request to build a 130-bed new homeless shelter. PHIL SKINNER

Despite opposition from nearby residents, a Cobb County charity can now build a new homeless shelter on land it said will better suit its needs.

The Marietta City Council on Thursday approve a variance request for MUST Ministries to build a 130-bed shelter on 6.33 acres at 1260 Cobb Parkway North. The council's unanimous vote reverses the Marietta Zoning Board of Appeals' decision to deny the variance.

Due to concerns expressed by residents about criminal activity in the area, city leaders added a stipulation that MUST Ministries hire off-duty police officers to provide security in the immediate area seven days a week.

More than 100 people packed the City Council chambers to observe the meeting, and most of them cheered when the charity won approval. The city set up chairs in the lobby so anyone who didn’t arrive early could hear what was being said.

The charity already had approval from the city to build a three-story shelter closer to Cobb Parkway on the same property. Its petition to the zoning board was to relocate the shelter about 30 yards from the original site. The variance was requested because the preferred site is closer to property zoned residential, within 750 feet, than the city’s zoning rules allow.

RELATEDMUST Ministries makes second attempt to get homeless shelter approved

MUST says moving the shelter will allow it to build a two-story, courtyard style building instead of a three-story tower that would sit along Cobb Parkway. MUST President and CEO Ike Reighard said he was thrilled the City Council voted to reverse the zoning board’s decision. He said he believed the Council “saw the benefit” of relocating the shelter away from Cobb Parkway.

“Homelessness is a problem everywhere right now, certainly not just here,” Reighard said. “We want to be part of that solution and help in any way we can.”

MUST faced a similar battle in 2017 when the zoning board rejected an exemption to the 750 feet rule, but MUST chose not to appeal that decision.

READDespite red tape, Cobb's MUST Ministries vows to feed hungry children

Several residents who spoke in opposition to MUST’s proposal pleaded with the council to keep the 750-foot rule in place for the charity. Some said the programs MUST provides attract people who are not taking advantage of the services. Joy Johnson, executive director of The Georgia Ballet, said she has been burglarized three times in recent years and has seen people go into her building “trying to hide.”

“I will not say that MUST doesn’t do good work, but we have to do something about this and the programs they run that are attracting these people to this area,” she said.

Todd Downing shows pictures of the trash he claims he has to clean up on his property near the MUST Ministries facility as the Marietta City Council considers Ministries’ request for a zoning variance to let it build a 130-bed homeless shelter. PHIL SKINNER

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During the presentation, Reighard said the charity’s latest figures show that about 65 percent of the 200 to 300 people who are turned away monthly from its current 72-bed shelter at 55 Elizabeth Church Road in Marietta are women and children. The courtyard-style shelter will allow MUST to build family units that will allow families to stay together.

Resident Steve Rush challenged those figures, adding the people he sees roaming his neighborhood streets are mostly men. Rush said MUST Ministries views the surrounding neighbors as “collateral damage” in its bid to gain approval from the City Council.

During the City Council’s discussion, Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly said she would like MUST Ministries to do some form of outreach to residents in the surrounding area. Councilman Reggie Copeland, who proposed the seven-day security detail, said he believed residents in the area should be able to live in peace. However, he also said he admires the work MUST Ministries does in the community.

“Homelessness is not a local issue, it’s a global issue,” he said.

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