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Zoning Board puts off decision on legality of homeless shelter operations

Updated June 18, 10:20 a.m.

The city Zoning Board of Appeals tonight put off a decision regarding the legality of the operations of a Ferry Avenue homeless shelter.

The board tabled the request from the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission to review whether the city was right when, in April, it stopped the shelter from providing emergency overnight housing. The shelter at 1023 Ferry Ave., which also serves meals and provides a long-term residential program, is in a neighborhood zoned residential that allows multiple dwellings.

The dispute revolves around whether having a property where emergency overnight housing is provided is allowed in this zoning district. The shelter started operating in 2010, but late last year some neighbors raised concerns publicly that such a use was prohibited.

The legal position put forth by the city was this: when the property was purchased by the mission in 2010, the law that was in effect did not allow transient overnight uses in that area. They also said the shelter's emergency overnight housing was more like a hotel use and did not fall under the "group living" category.

The legal position of the mission is that the property is not similar to a hotel/motel, but it is a "residential facility for adults." Its attorneys said all residential uses were permitted at the time the mission bought the property.

The city sent the shelter's attorney a letter in 2010 which the shelter took as giving it a "green light" to operate at the Ferry Avenue address.

After more than an hour of statements tonight from representatives of the shelter, the Memorial Park Block Club and other residents, Board member James Spanbauer said he needed time to review the matter before making a decision. The vote to table the matter was 5-0, with Board member John Cooper abstaining from all discussion because of his involvement with the Memorial Park Block Club. The board has 62 days to render its decision.

Michele G. Bergevin, an attorney for the Niagara Gospel Rescue Mission, sought to question Sign and Zoning Officer Patrick Ciccarelli at the start of the proceeding but was denied by Corporation Counsel Craig H. Johnson.

A judge in late April issued a temporary restraining order, which barred the city from enforcing its cease and desist order and means the shelter may continue to provide all of its services for the time being.

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Aaron Besecker

Aaron Besecker

Aaron Besecker joined The Buffalo News in 2007, where he has covered communities in Western New York as a beat reporter, multimedia journalist and assistant online editor. A Buffalo native, he began his career in journalism at the Niagara Gazette.

@The_Brink_Blog | abesecker@buffnews.com

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