East Pasco's only homeless shelter would have to close its daily operations within a year under a recommendation from the county's zoning staff.
The Chancey Road Christian Church in Zephyrhills has been operating a daily shelter since last summer, housing roughly 35 to 40 people each night. But it needs a special permit to continue operating, and zoning officials concluded this week that the shelter isn't a good fit for the rural residential area.
"At the end of the day, even though there is a need and this is a wonderful thing, it's location that matters," said zoning administrator Debra Zampetti. Her staff issued the recommendation in advance of a Wednesday meeting before the Planning Commission.
She noted statistics from the Sheriff's Office showing 19 calls for service related to the church in 2010. Last year, that figure jumped to 50. She also pointed to numerous objections from neighbors, including a letter from Dale Winbigler, who lives across the street on Lanier Road.
Winbigler, 53, described an incident where a young man knocked on her door asking for water one afternoon because he could not yet return to the shelter. Her husband gave the man some water, but the couple had to urge him to get off their front porch.
"I used to think my neighborhood was safe, but with this already happening I am starting to get worried," she wrote. "I have children and grandchildren that I will worry about playing in my own front yard."
County zoning laws say the church at 34921 Chancey Road needs a conditional use permit to operate such a residential facility in certain areas. After several complaints, a code enforcement officer issued a cease-and-desist order to the church in December, but the county quickly backtracked.
Officials agreed that the shelter can remain open temporarily until an April hearing before the County Commission, as long as church leaders worked to address concerns of neighbors.
Clarke Hobby, a lawyer representing the church, said the church has done just that.
"We agreed to a whole series of conditions to ensure there weren't any homeless people milling about during the day," he said. "That's the real problem."
The church scaled back its original plan for a 120-bed shelter to 50 beds. Guns, alcohol or drugs would be prohibited. It also agreed to require everyone who stays at the shelter to arrive by 10 p.m. and leave by 8 a.m. Most people leaving in the morning would board a van headed for Career Connections 6 miles away on Gall Boulevard. People could leave on bikes if they're heading to a job.
"We can all find a way to make this work, because the county needs this," Hobby said. "It's a big mistake just to say no. It's just a matter of taking care of the neighborhood responsibly."
Under Zampetti's plan, the church would wind down its operations over the next year and close in April 2013. In the meantime, it would be limited to 35 beds, which is roughly the number of people it serves now. It would also have to evict anyone who violates the shelter's policies.
Even if the proposal is approved, Zampetti said the church could make another request to continue running the shelter if it can prove it has curtailed problems in the surrounding neighborhood.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.