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New Philadelphia homeless shelter location rejected due to zoning code

The outside of the current New Philadelphia homeless shelter. The organization is currently looking for a new location.
Friends of the Homeless of Tuscarawas County
The outside of the current New Philadelphia homeless shelter. The organization is currently looking for a new location.

The future of a new homeless shelter in New Philadelphia is uncertain after city council’s Annexation and Zoning Committee unanimously voted against a new location.

The committee said they rejected the proposal, because it is not a permitted principle or conditional use under zoning law.

Residents of New Philadelphia also spoke out against the proposed location, because it was in a residential area, Committee Chair Cheryl Ramos said.

“The residents in the area circulated their own petition against amending the zoning code for that residential area,” she said. “We got emails and comments, people came to city council opposing this.”

This comes as New Philadelphia is in the middle of an overhaul of its zoning code, which has not seen any major changes in more than 20 years.

The committee will continue to look at the city's zoning regulations to approve a future proposal, Ramos said.

“No one is against the mission of the homeless shelter, or their goals, it’s a zoning issue only,” she said.

The proposal will also need the approval of the City Planning Commission, Ramos said.

The community has a great need for a new shelter, Matt Ritzert with Friends of the Homeless of Tuscarawas County said. The current shelter is in poor condition and a new, larger shelter will allow for separate spaces for men, women and families, he said.

“It's important that we move forward as soon as possible just because of the deteriorating condition of the current facility,” he said. “Our boiler needs constant repair, plumbing is an issue in the building […] So, there is some urgency that we find a resolution to the issue as soon as possible.”

The Friends of the Homeless is looking for a location within the central business district of the city, so it is accessible to social service agencies.

Ritzert wants the community to recognize the value of the shelter’s service in New Philadelphia.

“We believe there is widespread support for the work of the Friends of the Homeless in our community. We have provided thousands of beds a night to local residents through the years,” he said. “It’s an issue of finding an appropriate location and overcoming the attitude of ‘not in my backyard’ and recognizing that we are a great asset to the community and not in any way detrimental to the community.”

Ritzert hopes they can work with the city to find a suitable location and meet the community’s needs.

“We're disappointed that the committee decided not to approve our request, but we do understand concerns about the location and appreciate the input provided by the area residents,” he said. “We still very much want to work hand in hand and collaboratively with New Philadelphia city officials.”

Grace Springer is a journalism student at Kent State University. She is the General Assignment Editor for KentWired and covers executive administration for student media.