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BRUNSWICK — After more than a year of debate, town councilors approved two zoning ordinances Monday night that will regulate where homeless shelters can be established and a cap on the number of beds allowed.
Councilors voted unanimously April 8 to enact the ordinances immediately on an emergency basis and terminate a moratorium on shelters.
The moratorium was put in place last April, when Tedford Housing decided to build at Pleasant Hill Road and Baribeau Drive. Town officials realized then that, while Tedford has operated several in town since 1987, current zoning laws did not include the definition of “shelter.” That meant emergency facilities were not permitted because of the lack of definitions.
The temporary ban was extended in September.
But the list of places where Tedford can build a new resource center is now getting shorter, as councilors agreed earlier this year to prohibit new shelters in any residential zones and to institute a 1,000-foot buffer between any two shelters. Councilors on Monday also added an amendment so there can be more than one shelter within the buffer zone if they are on the same parcel of land.
Despite the progress, Councilor Stephen Walker said restricting where shelters can be located is making it harder for organizations like Tedford to operate and expand.
“What we’ve done to date has been to limit the location of where a resource center can be,” Walker said at the meeting. “We are also pushing these shelters to the outskirts of town and we are marginalizing people.”
Some councilors had concerns that other entities might try to set up shelters in Brunswick, so an 85-bed maximum was instituted Monday as well.
Councilor Christopher Watkinson said putting a limit on the number of beds does not combat the issue of homelessness.
“This cap is not a realistic remedy for homelessness,” he said.
Councilor James Mason agreed, and said capping beds could “prevent other shelters from serving the homeless population.”
But, other councilors strongly disagreed, worried that other entities could set up shelters in the town.
“With other communities not resolving this we could have to take on people from other communities that those communities don’t want to deal with and Brunswick doesn’t have the capacity for that,” Jane Millett said.
Tedford’s most recently proposed shelter and resource center had 70 beds and, under its proposal, the organization would close facilities on Cumberland and Federal streets.
There was a long list of performance standards that came before the Town Council March 18 and some included a six-month cap on how long a person could stay. The suggested six-month cap was removed on Monday night after many people spoke out against it during public comment.
Resident Jake Jakubowski said he now has permanent housing, thanks to stable employment and stable finances, which he wouldn’t have found if it weren’t for the help he received from Tedford.
“I had to stay at the shelter for seven months before I could land on my own feet,” said Jakubowski.
He said if he had he been asked to leave after six months, he would not be where he is now.
After the meeting, Tedford Housing Executive Director Craig Phillips he’s glad the process is moving forward so the shelter can start the process of finding land.
But Phillips said after the more-than-year-long process, it’s almost like starting all over again.
“We are going to move forward and try to find land and go through all the procedures we need to,” Phillips said, “but we don’t have a timetable on when we are going to find that land because this process has taken so long and it really is like starting from the beginning.”
A large crowd attended Monday’s Brunswick Town meeting, where councilors unanimously approved two zoning ordinances to regulate where homeless shelters can be located and how they will operate.