BRUNSWICK — A moratorium on new homeless shelters in town has been extended for another six months.
Councilors unanimously voted to approve an ordinance extending the moratorium at their regular meeting Sept. 17, following a public hearing. They voted to set a 180-day moratorium, which will expire Sept. 25, back in April.
An emergency moratorium prohibiting the construction of new homeless shelters was set by the council April 2, after town staff determined parts of a proposed new Tedford shelter would not be allowed under the town’s zoning ordinance.
Councilors later formed a shelter housing task force to develop amendments to the ordinance, which comprised the town manager, town attorney, stakeholders, and three town councilors. The Planning Board has also held workshops to discuss how to amend the zoning ordinance.
On Monday evening, Councilor James Mason said the Shelter Task Force has completed its meetings and is “in the process” of putting together a recommendation that will be brought to the council at its Oct. 1 meeting.
Mason said the task force could not bring the recommendation to the Sept. 17 meeting, and because the moratorium is scheduled to expire Sept. 25, asked the council for an extension.
He said though the task force asked for a six-month extension, he thinks the process could be completed “in four months if everything cuts right.”
“I believe that four months is what I would like to see the moratorium extended; I believe in deadlines for actions,” Mason said. “That is not the task force recommendation, that is my recommendation.”
A proposed three-month schedule for meetings was also provided to councilors, beginning Oct. 1.
Between the time the council receives a recommendation from the task force and the amendments go into effect, the Planning Board must hold a workshop and a public hearing. The Town Council must also hold a public hearing before it can adopt ordinance amendments.
If the meetings were to adhere to the schedule provided, the ordinance amendments would go into effect Jan. 2. However, Mason said the task force has “no control” over the Planning Board’s schedule.
Eldridge also noted combining the required Town Council and Planning Board public hearings to accelerate the process is something the town staff wants to “take a look at,” though it is not clear if they can be held jointly.
Councilor Alison Harris spoke in favor of getting the work done as soon as possible.
“Given that we’ve prevented any potential shelter provider from doing any planning since March 29 when the moratorium went into effect, I hate to have this extend any longer than absolutely necessary,” she said.
Several other councilors were in favor of the six-month moratorium for practical purposes in case unexpected delays in the schedule, such as winter weather, arise.
Councilor Jane Millett said “more discussion is better than less on something like this,” advocating for the six-month halt, although she added if the council can complete the work in four months “that’s great.”
Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing, thanked the task force for its work during the public hearing, but also outlined what he called “harsh language” in the moratorium document.
One sentence, he noted, states the location and operation of shelters in “various locations within Brunswick” have “potentially serious implications” for the “health, safety and welfare of those areas …”
He also spoke about Tedford’s hope for the future of the shelter development process as the council and Planning Board proceed.
“Our hope is that the discussions focus on responsibly facilitating the development of shelter facilities, and recognize that programs such as Oasis, Gathering Place, Mid Coast Hunger are not burdens for the community,” he said. “(They are) valuable resources and assets for assisting the community to address and help real people with real needs.”
Carolyn Ecklund, the reverend of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said she hopes the Town Council “doesn’t lose sight of the human beings who are our neighbors and who struggle to make their lives stable,” calling homelessness “an urgent condition.”
“I worry that so very few of our neighbors that are homeless have come to speak at these public hearings to share their stories with the task force,” she said.
After a motion to make the extension four months long instead of six months failed, councilors voted unanimously to extend the moratorium for six months.
Councilor Suzan Wilson said she supported both time frames.
“I think people’s considerations will be talked about, and I don’t think we need to worry so much about that because we’ve already had it for six months and nothing’s stopped,” she said. “This is merely the committee asking for an extension to finish their work.”
Craig Phillips, executive director of Tedford Housing, speaks at the Sept. 17 council meeting, where councilors extended a moratorium on new shelters for six months.