UPDATE: Hyde Park zoning officials have approved the shelter in the village. The board issued its written decision Wednesday evening after press time.
Read the story here: Hyde Park approves homeless shelter
Another week has gone by without word from Hyde Park zoning officials on the status of a planned emergency shelter in the village, keeping the 12-bed refuge shuttered and in limbo.
Meanwhile, down the road in Morrisville, an interim shelter came under that town’s scrutiny. Businessman Howard Manosh last week opened his old Plaza Hotel in Morrisville to the area’s homeless population and the organization that aims to keep them out of the cold, Lamoille Community House.
The issue was swiftly resolved in Morrisville, much to the relief of the organization, according to its spokeswoman, Jacquie Mauer. She said she started Monday morning concerned the shelter was going to be kicked out.
“What a day. What a week. What a last three hours,” she said Monday.
According to Mauer, Morristown officials said the Plaza Hotel isn’t permitted as a homeless shelter, but it is still permitted as a hotel, which carries many of the same stipulations of a shelter — limited numbers of nights in a row a guest can stay, for instance. So, she said, all it took was a little rejiggering by Lamoille Community House to meet the zoning requirements.
A Facebook post by a woman who said she heard that Manosh was being fined $500 a day by the town added to the confusion. It elicited more than 70 comments and was shared by more than 200 people throughout the day, almost all of them leaping to Manosh’s defense.
There were also multiple comments from Morristown Select Board chairman Bob Beeman, who urged Facebook users to call the town zoning offices to get “the real facts.” The post has since been deleted.
Zoning administrator Todd Thomas did not respond to three emails and a phone call between Monday and press time, so it is unclear how many people called his office. And, it is unclear how his interpretation of Plaza Hotel use as a temporary homeless shelter fits in with the town zoning laws.
Mauer, for her part, said, “Todd was very helpful.”
Dan Lindley, the town administrator and Thomas’s boss, said the town doesn’t have the ability to fine people, and certainly not at the rate of $500 a day.
“Only a judge has the ability to levy a fine,” Lindley said.
As far as the hotel’s use as a homeless shelter, Lindley said if Lamoille Community House wants to appeal to the town’s zoning board to amend the hotel’s zoning permit, it is welcome to do so. In the meantime? Whatever arrangement the homeless shelter and Manosh have is their business.
“The Plaza is permitted as a hotel, and it is being operated as a hotel,” Lindley said.
Mum in Hyde Park
Back in Hyde Park, village zoning administrator Karen Wescom said the village review board has been in “deliberative session” about the yellow house on Main Street since its last meeting, a 50-minute affair held Nov. 15. Wescom said these deliberative sessions are exempt from Vermont’s open meetings laws, so they don’t have to warned or documented.
“It closes the door to public information. They cannot receive any more information. They can only decide how something fits” into the bylaws, Wescom said.
Wescom said she didn’t know if the village development review board met last week to discuss the shelter, although others have said the board did meet, albeit behind closed doors.
Review boards can make decisions in deliberative session, as long as a written decision is made public.
Mauer said the zoning officials’ lack of communication is frustrating.
“It’s shocking that bureaucracy trumps health and wellness and human lives,” she said.
The Hyde Park shelter’s application was completed and submitted Sept. 28. Wescom waited until Oct. 23 to respond and refer the application to the review board. The board met Nov. 15, and has been in deliberative session ever since.
Wescom, who is also the village clerk, said Vermont law gives her 30 days to act on an application.
“When you have three or four job titles wrapped into one, sometimes it takes that long,” she said Tuesday.
Even if the board approves the warming shelter, there is an additional 30-day appeal period, which ensures the Plaza Hotel will remain open for people facing homelessness for at least another month.
Mauer said the shelter has been open for more than a week with, at most, three guests per night. But she said there are still homeless people who have walked to Hyde Park, not knowing the village house, which they stayed in last year, is still unusable.
Last year, the shelter, which popped up in various churches in Lamoille County before landing at the Main Street house owned by the Lamoille Sheriff’s Department in Hyde Park, was open for 109 nights, with 626 overnight stays.
Mauer said she understands that zoning rules are in place for a reason, but, she said, “sometimes you just have to do the right thing. You just have to meet people as human beings.”