City Law Director John Hatcher provides City Council with information that will aid in making a decision on an on-going homeless shelter zoning issue with Haven of Hope. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)
City Law Director John Hatcher provides City Council with information that will aid in making a decision on an on-going homeless shelter zoning issue with Haven of Hope. (DHI Media/Kirsten Barnhart)

VAN WERT – During Monday's City Council meeting, Law Director John Hatcher provided Council members with information that will help them make a decision on a zoning appeal of the Haven of Hope shelter at 233 N. Market St. Haven of Hope has scheduled an appeal with City Council for the Feb. 24 meeting.

Haven of Hope is appealing the Zoning Board of Appeals' decision that they made regarding whether a homeless shelter fits into the definition of "semi-public use." The 233 N. Market St. location is currently zoned for B-3, which allows for semi-public use facilities.

Van Wert City Code of Ordinances Section 150.03 defines a Semi-Public (Quasi-Public) Use as places such as "churches, Sunday schools, parochial schools, colleges, hospitals, or other institutions of an educational, religious, charitable, philanthropic or non-profit nature."

While Hatcher refused to give Council an official legal opinion of whether he believes Haven of Hope's homeless shelter qualifies for the semi-public definition, he did ask Councils to consider this: if a homeless shelter does not fall under semi-public use, what definition does it fall under?

"It needs to be defined as something," he said. "We don't have a definition for a homeless shelter currently in our zoning. It has to meet some definition. If it isn't a semi-public or quasi-public use, what is it? You have to answer that question for yourself in coming to a vote."

Hatcher also said that when he looked at other counties he found that many homeless shelters were commonly zoned under semi-public use. He even found an instance where that zoning was challenged in court in Franklin County. In the outcome of the case, the Franklin County Common Pleas Court ruled that a homeless shelter did qualify as a semi-public use (that case was later overturned on an unrelated matter in a 10th district court).

Hatcher urged Council to use the next two weeks to research the issue and make a well informed, researched vote based on reason, not emotions. It was also made clear that Council should not be voting on whether they feel Van Wert needs a homeless shelter but simply whether the definition fits.

"The genesis of the issue here is not whether the shelter is needed or who is opposing it, the question is where does it fit and does it qualify," said Councilman Bill Marshall.

Also during the meeting, several pieces of legislation were asked to be prepared that will be on the next Council agenda, including legislation to allow Safety-Service Director Jay Fleming to bid for a paving project, preliminary legislation for a paving project with ODOT, and legislation to allow Fleming to bid for street painting.

Legislation was also asked to be prepared to utilize money to replace the Franklin Street pump station. During the Parks and Recreation report, a resolution was asked to be prepared to allow Fleming to apply for an ODNR grant for the reservoir repaving project.

During his report, Fleming noted that he has been in talks with Honeywell to utilize a state program that would allow the municipal building to replace their HVAC system. According to Fleming, the current HVAC system has had high maintenance costs for many years and does not work properly.

The new system, in addition to an energy-efficient light upgrade, will help the building save money in energy and maintenance costs, and will solve heating and cooling issues, as well as leak issues. The city plans to loan money to themselves through bonds, which would help them avoid interest payments. Instead, they would pay back money and interest to themselves.

A committee meeting for both Finance and Property and Equipment committees was set for 6:15 p.m. on Feb. 24. With no further business, Council went into executive session to discuss pending litigation on the State opioid lawsuit with no action to be taken, and then adjourned.

The next City Council meeting will be held Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m.