SCRANTON | 01/25/2020 — Opponents of a 50-bed homeless shelter opening in the 500 block of Wyoming Avenue filed an appeal in Lackawanna County Court to overturn the zoning approval of the plan.
The zoning board on Dec. 11 approved a variance for Keystone Mission, a nonprofit Christian-based ministry on Olive Street, to convert a former auto-glass shop at 529-31 Wyoming Ave. into an overnight homeless shelter with a day center and support services.
In a phone interview Friday, mission CEO Justin Behrens said he hopes the zoning approval is upheld in county court.
“We are faith-based. God will either open this door or close this door when it comes to this building,” Behrens said.
The plan for an overnight shelter and day center would allow the mission to offer expanded and improved services, Behrens testified during the Dec. 11 zoning hearing.
The mission’s Olive Street site, which is not an overnight shelter, opens a dayroom respite for the homeless and provides other assistance. The plan for Wyoming Avenue aims to create a “transformation center,” a place where the homeless could find immediate help and ongoing support, training and assistance towards reversing their homelessness, Behrens said Friday.
To that end, the mission hopes to work with community organizations, mental health and drug/alcohol agencies, career/job search entities and businesses to create a network of services and assistance, he said.
Though sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, neighboring businesses and property owners who objected during the Dec. 11 hearing said the 500 block of Wyoming Avenue, a light industrial zone that has been on an upswing, is not an appropriate spot for a homeless facility. They expressed concerns about homeless people loitering and affecting their businesses.
Their attorney, William Jones, argued the mission failed to meet the criteria for a variance.
The zoning board voted 4-1 to approve a variance for a shelter, with Chairman Shawn Walsh, Carri Newcomb, Paul Marcks and Bob Morris all in favor, and Bob Gattens opposed.
Afterward, neighbors became co-plaintiffs and, on Jan. 13, filed an appeal of the zoning approval.
The plaintiffs, also represented by Jones, include: D.G. Nicholas, owner of 601-607 Wyoming Ave.; James B. Nicholas, owner of 533-535 Wyoming Ave.; Thomas and Marilyn Voytek, owners of Tom’s Garage, 519 Wyoming Ave.; Paul Ezbianski, owner of Battaglia’s Sporting Goods, 501 Wyoming Ave.; Andy Truong, owner of City Nail salon, 521 Wyoming Ave.; and Mimi Equities LLC, a firm of Don Mammano, owner of 614 Wyoming Ave., a six-story former warehouse undergoing a conversion into a mixed-use, apartment/commercial-office building.
The appeal echoes Jones’ arguments before the zoning board, namely that the proposal does not qualify for variance, the mission did not prove the required hardship that the building could not have any other use in its zone, and the board erred in approving the variance. Behrens disagrees and said the homeless already frequent that area, which has an unrelated shelter and soup kitchen nearby. He also cited a larger societal humanitarian need to care for the homeless.
“I truly believe this building is the best building for Scranton and the area,” for a homeless shelter/transformation center, Behrens said. “We are still focused, still dedicated on transforming lives, still pursuing this building.”
Jim Lockwood, The Times-Tribune
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