Three Lewes residents successful in appeal to stop homeless shelter

GEORGETOWN — Three Lewes residents successfully appealed a 2017 government board’s decision to approve a special use exception for a proposed homeless shelter.

In a six-page decision on March 28, a Superior Court judge vacated a ruling by the Sussex County Board of Adjustment regarding the planned Immanuel Shelter home near the Five Points intersection at 32490 Lewes- Georgetown Highway.

In a 3-1 vote, the board misapplied Sussex County Code when it reasoned the shelter could be a “tourist home” and thus qualify for a special use exception.

Faith United Methodist Church is the owner of the property involved, with Immanuel Shelter a contract purchasing equitable owner.

The land is zoned for agricultural residential use, and an excepted “tourist home” could be defined as “a dwelling having not more than six rental rooms for guests. No cooking facilities shall be permitted in individual guest rooms.”

While bed-and-breakfasts, rooming houses, boarding houses, and lodging houses fit the definition of tourist homes, Superior Court ruled that shelters did not.

“Despite the relatively broad interpretation given to the term, the Court finds that it is simply too far of a stretch to say that a homeless shelter is a tourist home,” according to the opinion.

Superior Court noted qualified tourist homes involve “those types of living arrangements where the resident is paying some form of rent in order to temporarily stay at the premises,” according to Sussex Code.

Henlopen Landing residents John D. Hartigan and Kenneth Bartholomew raised issues with the board’s ruling, along with Lewes Crossing resident John Zawislak.

At a BOA public hearing on May 15, 2017, certified real estate planner Glenn Piper of Landmark Associ ates testified on behalf of Immanuel Shelter that the project would not hurt property values or use in the area. Immanuel Shelter Board President Janet Idema pledged “that the shelter would utilize a strict vetting process to ensure that only certain individuals be permitted to stay on the premises.

“At that time, she believed that potential residents could be processed at Delaware State Police Troop 7 to ensure that they had not been convicted of violent felonies and were not Tier Two or Tier Three Sex Offenders.

“Ms. Idema additionally explained that individuals staying at the shelter would be required to perform chores, seek work, and find stable housing. A person would only be able to stay for a maximum of 90 days.”

Nine individuals spoke in favor of the proposal, with 17 speaking out against the shelter.

According to the opinion, “The residents main concern was that the presence of homeless individuals would lead to increased panhandling at the entrances of Henlopen Landing and Lewes Crossing, which would deter prospective homebuyers and decrease property values.

“Residents also expressed concerns for their safety as well as the possibility of increased traffic in the area. (Also) residents voice their concern about the safety of people staying at the shelter who may be walking on the congested roadway in order to get to the nearby DART bust stop.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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