Frederick residents expressed resentment at a potential change that would allow a nonprofit to have a permanent homeless shelter on the city’s main street.
A unanimous vote by the city’s Planning Commission to recommend rezoning of the building that houses the Frederick Community Action Agency at 100 S. Market St. to allow the permanent shelter was met with boos and meeting attendees repeating the phrase “Goodbye, Frederick.”
If ultimately approved by the Board of Aldermen, the property, which the FCAA currently operates as a transitional shelter, would be rezoned to allow the agency to offer permanent housing for the homeless. Currently, the shelter offers 14 bedrooms with 31 beds and nine cribs for homeless families and physically or mentally disabled adults.
The proposed rezoning would provide 14 or 15 bedrooms, including four or five larger bedrooms aimed at housing homeless couples. It would also fall under the institutional zoning designation, which means it allows public, private or nonprofit-owned areas such as hospitals, houses of worship, and religious or social missions.
At the heart of residents’ concern Monday was the future of the property and the city’s ability to keep the area safe. The packed house in the City Hall Boardroom offered countless examples of how they feel their neighborhood has been adversely affected by the presence of the homeless.
Brad Hoffman, who lives on South Market Street, argued that while he was familiar with the character of the neighborhood at the time he and his family moved into the property, the level of crime committed in and around 100 S. Market St. has only increased through the years.
“This summer has been the first time in my life I have ever been afraid to call the police or walk out my front door,” Hoffman said.
In the last two months, Hoffman has called the police about people drinking alcohol on the sidewalk in front of his house. He’s had to clean up their vomit, seen people sell drugs from his front stoop, and people overdose from his living room window, he said.
He added that he’s seen people urinate in plain view on Market Street and has been threatened with violence.
Hoffman’s comments were echoed by other neighborhood residents and business owners, with many saying that the area is one of the first things visitors see when they come to Frederick. Allowing the possibility of permanent housing at the agency, they said, would only exacerbate the issue of cleaning up the area for visitors and residents alike, and it would also promote a lack of safety in the community.
Mike Spurrier, executive director of the Community Action Agency, maintained that the rezoning would not add to the sect of perceived problem-makers downtown. Rather, he said, it would reduce the number of occupants per unit at the agency, citing that the maximum number of people able to use permanent supportive housing would be 20, whereas currently, the FCAA provides housing for 31 to 40 people.
Population growth, however, is not at the forefront of residents’ minds, said Jim Bauckman, who also spoke out Monday night against the proposed rezoning. Instead, he argued that the bigger issue is what the potential rezoning would mean in terms of cleaning up the neighborhood somewhere down the line.
“There’s a definite feeling that the input of the surrounding community is ignored and that the issues we face each day are blown out of proportion,” Bauckman said Tuesday. “The issues are real, and so is the frustration with behavior that surrounds the FCAA. ... How do we make the problems go away so that all of us can best benefit from the good work the city is doing to fight the problem of homelessness? With a change in zoning at this address, that sounds very difficult to achieve.”
Bauckman added that FCAA has not communicated with the neighborhood and doesn’t want make necessary changes to clean up the area.
“Mr. Spurrier always asks the community to reach out to him,” Bauckman said. “He is beholden to the city government and to the taxpayer; the burden of community outreach, stakeholder evaluation and planning is on him.”
Kelly Russell, who serves as both an alderwoman and a Planning Commission member, said that while she was unable to speak in detail about the situation because it’s an ongoing matter, she does appreciate the work the FCAA does for the community, saying that it “provides services to a wide range of people in the community and they do it very well.”
Alderman Roger Wilson, meanwhile, explained that until the issue comes to the board, he isn’t able to comment on what the best zoning for the property might be.
“We need to look at the implications that go along with switching the property to institutional zoning,” Wilson said. “I’m looking forward to continuing the discussion.”