Thursday, October 05, 2000

Ruling allows nuns' homeless work to continue

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A group of Roman Catholic nuns doesn't have to shut down a program that provides temporary housing and job training for homeless women and their children at a former convent in Youngstown, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a zoning dispute.

        In a 5-2 ruling, the court rejected arguments from neighbors that the property can be used for single families only.

        “It's terrific,” said Mary Beth Houser, an attorney for the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown. “It really would have been difficult if we would have had to close down.”

        The nuns received a zoning permit in 1997 for the building at St. Brendan's Church. They then converted 15 bedrooms on the building's second floor into five apartments for people accepted into the nuns' Beatitude House program and began offering job training.

        The nuns said their 2-year-old program is permitted because the zoning code says the site can be used for a church and their work is an extension of the church. Other buildings owned by churches are allowed on the prop erty, but no one may live in those buildings.

        The convent housed up to 15 nuns until 1993 but wasn't subject to the zoning requirements because it existed before the zoning code.

        Justice Deborah Cook wrote in the high court's majority opinion that the restriction that no one can live in the extension buildings “expressly refers to sheds, garages and greenhouses.”

        “This list of structurally similar storage- or workshop-type buildings shows that the drafters of the zoning code had a particular type of structure in mind when they desired to prohibit dwelling units in "accessory buildings' in residential zones,” she wrote.

        Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton and Justice Francis Sweeney dissented. The two said the majority's opinion thwarts the zoning ordinance, which is in place to regulate population in residential districts, and the writers of the zoning code didn't intend to limit the code's application to “small, shed-like structures.”

        The Mahoning County Common Pleas Court had sided with the nuns, but the 7th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Youngstown reversed that decision.


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