A non-profit’s plan to build a larger homeless shelter in Marietta suffered another setback Monday before the city’s zoning board.
Marietta Zoning Board of Appeals members voted 5-2 to deny MUST Ministries’ request to build a 130-bed shelter on 6.33 acres of land at 1260 Cobb Parkway North.
The charity already has approval from the city to build a three-story shelter on the same property that’s closer to Cobb Parkway. MUST’s petition to the zoning board was to relocate the shelter on the site.
MUST wants to build a two-story, courtyard style shelter that would be about 80 feet from the original site.
The site of the proposed shelter is currently zoned for community retail commercial use. City zoning laws require homeless shelters be located at least 750 feet from property zoned for residential uses.
MUST faced a similar battle in 2017 when the board rejected an exemption to the 750 feet rule, but MUST chose not to appeal that decision.
More than 100 people, most of whom were MUST board members, volunteers and supporters, filled the City Council chambers to view the proceedings. Marietta police and city employees set up room outside the chambers so the people who arrived too late to get a seat could hear.
Don Hausfeld, a MUST board member, told the Board of Appeals that the organization turns away between 200 and 300 people per month at its current 72-bed shelter at 55 Elizabeth Church Road in Marietta. About 74 percent of those people are women and children who end up sleeping behind shopping centers and in cars, he said.
Allowing construction within the 750-foot radius would allow MUST to use its adjacent property to construct a courtyard style building that would be hidden from view from the highway, Hausfeld said.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to do this the right way and you’d be proud of us if we can do it,” Hausfeld said.
MUST Ministries President and CEO Ike Reighard said most people in the community would not want “a big, three-story high-rise on Highway 41.”
“We don’t want it either,” he said. “The land variance decision by the zoning board is forcing this less desirable plan. We are grateful for an opportunity to explain the approach again and are hopeful of a better outcome.”
Zoning board members Ronald Clark and Bobby Van Buren voted in support of the request. MUST Ministries said it will appeal the decision to the City Council, which is scheduled to hear the case at its Oct. 10 meeting, said planning and zoning coordinator Ines Embler.
Several residents spoke in opposition of MUST’s proposal because they believe the people who use the organization’s services are behind criminal incidents in their neighborhoods.
Steve Rush, who lives off Bells Ferry Road east of Cobb Parkway, said his personal experiences with people who use MUST’s services are individuals who want to live a “responsibility-free” lifestyle.
“What I see in the area is not the kind of people who are really taking advantage and getting help,” he said.
Another resident, Todd Downey, said he doesn’t have a problem with MUST Ministries and its work in the community.
“The problem is when they give all this free stuff away to these people and they don’t want help,” he said.
Joy Johnson, executive director of The Georgia Ballet, which is also near the site, said the business has been burglarized three times recently. She said she is “very concerned” for the safety of the children and parents who are members of the ballet studio.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes, another MUST Ministries board member, said the non-profit already has the go-ahead to build on adjacent land. The question now, he said, is whether the community would rather see a homeless shelter built with a “thumb” in the sky or one that fits into the side of an existing building.
Barnes took issue with the “free stuff” comments made by some on the opposing side.
“The only free stuff we give is to feed you and if you tell me it’s wrong for somebody to feed a hungry man…then something’s wrong with our society,” he said.
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