RIPPON — Leaders of the Homeless Coalition of Jefferson County say they will appeal the county’s zoning office decision to block a homeless shelter from opening at a former church in Rippon.
[cleeng_content id="872852995" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]An administrative decision by the Jefferson County Planning and Zoning Office was just one setback for the Homeless Coalition, which had plans to open a 16-bed shelter in the St John’s Episcopal Church’s fellowship hall after being granted permission by the Episcopal bishop to use the building for that purpose.
The zoning office denied the permit Sept. 17, citing the definition of a church as “a building or site wherein persons regularly assemble for religious worship and which is maintained and controlled by a religious body organized to sustain public worship.” The board also denied the permit on the grounds that the coalition is not a licensed behavioral health service provider.
The coalition will appeal the decision by the zoning department on the grounds that under state law, a church does not have to hold formal services each Sunday to be considered a church and that the Homeless Coalition of Jefferson County is a faith-based organization.
The county’s Board of Zoning Appeals will hear the appeal by the coalition at 2 p.m. Oct. 10 in the meeting room at the Charles Town Public Library.
Coalition leaders’ plans also hit a snag after a cabal of the onetime church’s former trustees produced a deed that showed that if the church were to ever dissolve, the property would revert back to the family of Caleb Burns, which donated the land to the church in 1873.
The deed allows the land to be used for the church but requires that that be its only function. In the event that the property ceases to be used for that purpose, it “becomes the property again of Caleb Burns and his heirs,” according to the deed.
St. John’s Episcopal Church was dissolved by a vote of the trustees in 2012. The last service was held at the church in February 2012. According to St. John’s trustee Doug Stolipher, the trustee board was never contacted by the Homeless Coalition, instead the coalition contacted the Episcopal Diocese in Charleston for permission to use the church.
“We were never contacted about the use of the church as a homeless shelter,” Stoplipher said.
Homeless Coalition member Bob DuBose said he is confident the coalition’s plans will move forward. He said the church is now the property of the West Virginia Diocese of the Episcopal Church, not the former trustees, nor the former owners of the property.
“The deed is defunct,” DuBose said. “After 90 years the reversion clause is invalidated.”
Rippon resident Jeanne Morton owns the land behind the church and said she is concerned about the homeless being sheltered at the church’s fellowship hall. Morton believes many homeless people are from out of the region but come to Jefferson County because of the services provided.
“As soon as we started seeing meals and lodging being provided, people started coming from other areas,” Morton said, adding she thinks bussing homeless people from other areas is a nationwide problem.
“The current solution by many states and municipalities is to buy a homeless person a bus or plane ticket and send them to another location,” Morton said, noting that the city of Honolulu sends its homeless to the mainland and that New York City sends the homeless wherever they want to go.
Rippon has a population of 224. Morton has collected 130 signatures from Rippon residents who oppose the shelter. Although she and other residents say they are sympathetic to the plight of the homeless, they said they believe the current solutions seem to attract more homeless people.
“I believe we are creating a homeless industry here,” Morton said.[/cleeng_content]