OLATHE, Kan. — A Johnson County building that was intended for a cold weather shelter remains vacant months after being purchased by a nonprofit due to issues with permits.
The nonprofit, Project 1020, bought the building in Olathe, Kansas, back in August.
“Before we bought the building, we went to the City of Olathe to see if this would be a site where we could have a shelter for homeless adults,” Project 1020 President Barbara McEver said.
McEver said the city checked it out and said it was zoned properly and Project 1020 could operate a shelter out of the facility.
“Then we're meeting with the city and the fire department a couple times a month to go through everything we need to go through with the architect,” McEver said. “We knew we had to put fire suppression in and need to do things to bring building up to code, like make it ADA compliant.”
But in November, the organization was told it needed a special use permit to open a cold weather shelter there. A special use permit requires notifying neighbors within 500 feet of the property of intentions for the space.
Project 1020 has been in a temporary space while working to get things sorted out.
The special use permit was a late requirement imposed by the city during a change in ordinance.
“Initially, staff did express that the use was not prohibited at the time the question was presented. Unfortunately while this occurred, we were in the process of updating our ordinance to accommodate an emerging issue we had not previously faced, transitional housing,” said Tim Danneberg, spokesman for the City of Olathe, in a statement. “We had recognized our current ordinance did not give us the appropriate tools to address certain high-intensity uses that could have a significant impact on the surrounding area and present potential life-safety issues. Since this request came during our ordinance transition and created confusion, the City offered to purchase the property out of good will.”
Project 1020 said it is committed to the shelter and serving the community, but right now, it’s up in the air whether or not the building will operate as a cold weather shelter.
“We don't have any idea what's going to happen. Right now we have this building that we own that we can't use and we don't know if it's going to happen,” McEver said. “It seems inhumane to me to not — when we see folks walking down the sidewalk and struggling, I just can't imagine our city and our county, that we can't rally around them and help them. This is simply just the right thing to do.”
Danneberg said while the city applauds Project 1020’s intent, they have a responsibility to ensure the health of those being served as well as others who live nearby.
“Our concerns have mounted based on what is occurring at the temporary facility… also in a neighborhood. Police have responded to a multitude of issues generated at the facility including assault and battery, drug use, criminal threat and trespassing. There is no security at the facility, and there is no screening process for those staying. Based on how that facility has been operated, we have concerns these types of issues will carry over to the proposed permanent site. Olathe is already home to Johnson County’s only homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Family Lodge. That facility, with trained staff, generates a very small fraction of calls compared to the temporary facility.”
Project 1020 leaders said they have a safety plan in place and are open to discuss any concerns with neighbors.
There will be a neighborhood meeting Monday night at 6:30 at the facility at 725 W. Park St. in Olathe, Kansas.
The city council will vote on the permit on March 11.