Brunswick council extends moratorium on homeless shelters

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BRUNSWICK — A moratorium on the creation of new homeless shelters has been adopted on a regular basis, further delaying Tedford Housing from building a new shelter.

The Town Council voted 8-1 for the 180-day moratorium, following a public hearing Tuesday, April 17. Councilor Stephen Walker was opposed.

Councilors also voted 8-1 to form a shelter housing task force comprising the town manager, town attorney, stakeholders and three town councilors. Councilor Jane Millett was opposed.

At the same meeting, councilors voted to set three public hearings for their May 7 meeting.

One public hearing will discuss enacting the town’s third 180-day moratorium on retail marijuana stores, facilities, social clubs, and medical marijuana storefronts.

Another public hearing will be discuss increasing the retail cost of town trash bags, and the third will discuss raising the daily price of parking in the town parking lot on Union Street.

Homeless shelters

Councilors previously enacted a 50-day emergency moratorium prohibiting the creation of new homeless shelters April 2, after town staff determined portions of Tedford’s proposal would not be allowed under current zoning in any part of town.

Tedford has not submitted a formal application to the town, but pre-application discussions had begun with town staff regarding the organization’s plan to replace its two current shelters with one new shelter at Baribeau Drive and Pleasant Hill Road.

The building would not comply with zoning because of its rooms designed for temporary stays, which do not fall under the ordinance definitions of assisted living or congregate housing.

On Tuesday evening, councilors voted before a packed house. Most of those in attendance were members of the 62 Pleasant Hill Coalition, a neighborhood group made up of abutters of the corner where the new shelter is proposed to be built.

“We think that it’s a critical piece to allow the time for the council to go through, and provide adequate time to do the job right and correct the problems that there are in the zoning right now,” Jim Bridge, a spokesman for the group, said in support of the moratorium.

Several residents, however, spoke against the moratorium.

Frank Strasberger focused on the rising number of homeless students in the Brunswick School Department. He said he was told there are 75 homeless students in the district, and emphasized that Tedford is a crucial resource for them.

“This is not Detroit, it’s not Boston, this is Brunswick, Maine, and every one of those kids, 75 kids, are our kids. We need to take responsibility for them,” Strasberger said. “I don’t understand how it is possible that we passed an entire ordinance and forgot that there are homeless people.”

He went on to say that he understands “things take time,” but the town needs to treat the issue as an emergency.

“If it were your kids that were out there … you wouldn’t take six months to deal with it,” Strasberger said. “I beg you not to pass an ordinance that lets us all off the hook.”

Echoing Strasberger, Walker said he could not vote for the moratorium due to its length, though he understood neighborhood concerns and the legal issues.

“I can’t sleep at night saying we’re going to put this off six months knowing the conditions of people out there on the streets of Brunswick,” the councilor said.

Councilor Suzan Wilson, however, responded by saying she supports the 180-day moratorium, and that there’s nothing preventing the town from acting sooner than six months, since the moratorium expires when action is taken.

“I think everybody understands this is a severe situation and a situation that needs addressing,” she said.

The shelter housing task force will include Councilor James Mason, who will chair the committee, as well as At-Large Councilor Alison Harris and Councilor Kathy Wilson. Town Manager John Eldridge, the town attorney and other stakeholders will also be included.

The task force will develop definitions of shelter housing, determine appropriate zones for the location of shelter housing, and develop performance standards for shelters.

More than one resident, including Bridge, advocated for members of the public to be included as members of the task force, but councilors opted to keep the group small to speed the process.

Chairman John Perrault said members of the public will be able to give their opinions to the committee at each of its meetings.

Millett was opposed because members of the public are not being included.

“We all have recent memory, I hope, of how polarizing issues can become in Brunswick,” she said. “By including members of the public to begin with I think we do get some buy-in to whatever recommendations are made.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Brunswick resident Frank Strasberger urges the Town Council not to adopt an extended moratorium on new homeless shelters April 17. Strasberger cited the high number homeless students in town schools.

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