PHOENIXVILLE - Borough Planner Ray Ott presented a memo to the planning commission that helped solidify some previously proposed conditions for homeless shelters, but it also sparked additional debate at Thursday's meeting.
Ott's memo dealt with group homes/personal care homes for six to eight residents who are non-family members, emergency shelters for up to 20 residents and neighborhood emergency shelters for no more than five adults.
The memo limited emergency shelters of up to 20 residents to the zoning district D-Comm District and the LICO-2 District. Shelters in the D-COMM District will not be allowed in the Bridge Street Overlay District. This area encompasses much of the downtown, without including the core of the business district.
The LICO-2 District is located along Bridge Street near Nutt Road.
Planners agreed that neighborhood emergency shelters would be located at least 500 apart, with emergency shelters having up to 20 residents no more than 1,000 feet from each other. Shelters would also be a limited distance from schools and child care centers with at least 10 students.
Planners considered the possibility that by creating a 20-resident homeless shelter they might attract out-of-town residents.
"We don't want to create something that opens us up to being a Mecca," said planner Teena Peters. "If we don't have a distinct need of large shelters then we shouldn't create."
Borough Solicitor Glenn Diehl stressed that homeless residents are currently living in Phoenixville.
"If we have (large shelters), are we attracting?" said Diehl. "(The homeless) are here now. You don't want to be coming out of your office and wonder, is someone sleeping on your porch?"
Planner Michael Hott said that the homeless are not always what they are portrayed to be.
"We should be aware that some of the homeless people are mentally disturbed," said Hott.
Hott said that homeless often yell and sometimes publicly urinate.
Ott said that those traits were "out of character" for residents of a similar shelter in West Chester, Safe Harbor.
Code Enforcement Officer Mark Zeleznick suggested that shelters be allowed through conditional use hearings rather than as a by-right use.
Borough Council will make the final decision on shelter zoning. Diehl said that planners shouldn't "want to limit Council's options."
Planner George Martynick asked Diehl whether shelters could be licensed and was told that they could not.
When Peters asked whether background checks might be required before shelter residents could move in, Diehl said, "Zoning does not regulate people, it regulates the use."
Other parameters previously discussed by planners and included in the memo were parking, buffer zones, landscaping, minimum side yards, minimum room size and outside patio space.
A map presented along with Ott's memo identified current group home locations. One group home, of those listed, currently functions as a homeless shelter. Of 14 group homes, nine are located on the North Side and five in the rest of the borough.
In what Diehl said was an unrelated matter, a proposed Good Samaritan Shelter, which sparked several months of discussion among planners, will likely never house residents at the proposed Dayton Street location.