At the June 10 Lincoln City, City Council meeting, community members voiced their opinions on the proposed ordinance regarding accessory uses for Places of Worship.
On May 23, Lincoln City’s Planning Commission deliberated and discussed the proposed ordinance, and made the recommendation that the City reduce the required square footage per person for overnight sheltering at places of worship to 35 square feet per person, remove the Oregon Fire Code technical assistance memo requirement of a maximum of 90 days a year and have no cap on the maximum amount of overnight sheltering of individuals in the residential zones.
Currently Places of Worship citywide are providing services, such as providing overnight emergency sheltering to individuals and families, which are not authorized under the City’s Land Use Regulations. The purpose of this new amendment is to identify a balanced approach to addressing the needs of those the Places of Worship serve and to coordinate with the surrounding neighborhoods, according to the Planning Commission.
For overnight sheltering in Places of Worship, the City requires a maximum of 15 people per evening in residential zones, with standards requiring a minimum of 50 square feet of area per individual. There is a total of 120,254 interior square footage in Places of Worship in Residential Zones in Lincoln City, which is within 20 structures.
In addition to the persons per evening, the Commission recommended that Council consider removing the maximum of 90 evenings per year that is included in the Oregon Fire Code Technical Advisory Memo. The Planning Commission has also noted that the City’s current definition for Emergency Shelters has a limitation of a maximum amount of homeless persons not to exceed 60 days per person.
At the City Council meeting, there was some confusion on distinguishing the difference between ‘accessory structure’ or ‘accessory uses’ and emergency shelter, since Places of Worship sheltering services are currently defined as accessory use. ‘Accessory structure’ or ‘accessory use’ means a structure or use incidental and subordinate to the main use of property and located on the same lot as the main use, including any required off-street parking within 200 feet (measured in a straight line) of the building or use it is intended to serve.
An ‘Emergency shelter,’ which would include an organization such as The Warming Shelter in Lincoln City, means a facility consisting of dwelling units, dormitories and/or yurts, which provides necessary counseling services for 20 or fewer homeless persons for a period not to exceed 60 days per person and which includes associated cooking and sanitation facilities necessary to accommodate the maximum occupancy of the facility.
Currently The Warming Shelter peaks at approximately 40 people at its busiest time and under ‘accessory use,’ Places of Worship in Lincoln City have been able to provide additional necessary services for the homeless. The Planning Commission analyzed all places of worship regardless of zone with the amount of people that could be provided overnight shelter if they had a maximum of 20 persons, similar to the Emergency Shelter definition, and the total amount of overnight persons would be a maximum of 520 citywide at current count.
An echoing concern this new ordinance has had so far is how the increased allowance of people will impact the neighborhoods surrounding the churches. City Councilmen Rick Mark made note of this at the Monday meeting.
“If you have a limit of 15 (people)… I know there are concerns from neighbors,” Mark said. “15 seems like a lot of people and I’m okay with that, but if we allow the number to expand, are we opening the door for neighbors who are reluctant to have homeless people stay next door? It’s kind of a concern I have.”
The City noted that this ordinance would also cover traveling groups who might stay in the church overnight before leaving town. Resident Susan Wahlke spoke at the meeting, stating that a few years ago, the City Council adopted an ordinance that allows churches to provide car camping in their parking lots.
“If we allow people to sleep in their cars and the church is willing to bring them inside the building, then we should be open to that,” Wahlke said. “It’s unconscionable to say you can stay in the car in 30 degree weather but you can’t come inside.”
Kelli Westmark, pastor of Lincoln City Church of the Nazarene, also spoke at the meeting and addressed the issue that Councilman Mark alluded to in attracting more homeless people to residential areas, arguing that the homeless are already in residential neighborhoods.
“I live in an area that is not surrounded by churches and I have many, many homeless neighbors who just live in the woods across the street,” Westmark said. “Homelessness is everywhere. I know we have over 400 homeless children in Lincoln City and I can’t consciously see any of our churches turning our children away.”
Phil Magnan, pastor of Calvary Chapel, spoke next stating that the City has no right to prohibit the free exercise of religion and the productive charity work that is part of religion. Magnan also spoke on the question of whether churches receive special privileges that may strain current law and provided an explanation.
“I can answer that question by saying that there are people in our community that are given special privileges because of the gravity of what they do,” Magnan said. “We don't give tickets to policemen or the fire department or an ambulance driver because they happen to park in a red zone or speed to an accident. Why? Because as a society, we're able to see the greater value of those fine agencies to do a greater work of justice and compassion.”
Magnan also noted that most churches only take a reasonable amount of people to be housed to prevent conflict with the neighborhoods around them.
North Lincoln Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal Frederick (Ed) Ulrich was in attendance at the meeting and spoke to the council regarding the safety concerns of housing individuals in a church. Ulrich stated the new ordinance would introduce a greater risk to the community and to homeless persons in particular.
“These Places of Worship, the buildings were purposely built to support the current conference and assembly of members and visitors, gathering together for their services and ceremonies,” Ulrich said. “They were built to be an assembly building. Assembly occupancy is one in which its occupants are generally presumed to be awake and aware of their surroundings and capable to self evacuate.”
Ulrich argued that this new ordinance would allow structures designed for assembly purposes, to become residential type occupancy, allowing persons unfamiliar with the building to sleep there.
Mayor Dick Anderson asked Ulrich why there was a 90-day limit placed on persons staying in a church per year, looking for a health and safety reasoning. However, Ulrich’s response was that it was an adopted code set down by legislative bodies.
“The building and fire codes under normal circumstances would not allow a residential usage of an assembly type building without having certain improvements to the fire protection features such as fire alarm systems and fire sprinkler systems,” Ulrich said.
There were several other community members and organization speakers that came forward at the meeting, which can be viewed at the Lincoln City, City website. The council decided to keep the record open to the public until Monday, June 17 at 5 p.m. This will allow anyone to write in any further comments for the council to deliberate on at the next city council meeting on June 24.