Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Homeless center loses land to city

Commission vote cancels board's approval

By Ray Schaefer
Enquirer Contributor

        COVINGTON — What Covington's Board of Adjustments gave to backers of a social service center proposed for downtown last month, the City Commission took away Tuesday.

        By a 4-1 vote, commissioners approved an ordinance that allows the city to begin eminent-domain procedures for a parking lot on Washington Street between Seventh and Eighth streets.

        The city does not have a specific plan for the property, but it wants to acquire it for business development.

        Tuesday's decision means the Life Learning Center, a 49,000-square-foot facility that primarily would have served Covington's homeless population, will not be built soon.

        “We've got to take a stand and not let Covington become the social service capital of the world,” said Commissioner Alex Edmondson, who voted to begin eminent-domain proceedings. Joining him were Commissioners Jerry Bamberger and J.T. Spence and Mayor Butch Callery.

        Mr. Spence said he voted yes because the center was larger than he was led to believe.

        About 20 proponents of the center at Tuesday's commission meeting wore yellow stickers bearing the words “Vote Yes for the Life Center.” They were both upset and optimistic.

        “If we aren't going to take care of our own people, who is?” said Ann Kupper, who works at the Recovery Network agency on Madison Avenue.

        But Latonia resident Peggy Lietzenmayer said the city is not forgetting the homeless. She said there are “probably 100” acceptable sites.

        “My reaction is, everyone knows there's a definite need for a life center,” Ms. Lietzenmayer said. “The contention is the location. ... I would be happy to have it in my neighborhood.”

        On Dec. 20, the city's Board of Adjustments voted 3-2 to override a decision by the city's zoning staff not to grant the Life Learning Center a permit to develop a facility at Eighth and Washington.

        The city is appealing that ruling before Kenton Circuit Judge Patricia Summe, though no hearing date has been set.

        Commissioner Craig Bohman cast the dissenting vote Tuesday. He said he wanted a judge to settle the debate over whether the service center is an acceptable use for the site.

        Bill Butler, president of Corporex Cos., owns the site.

        The center would have provided a variety of services that included:

        • A day center, where the homeless could store belongings, change clothes, shower, pick up mail and use a phone to talk to prospective employers.

        • A medical clinic for the homeless. Staff also would be able to tell if patients need mental health treatment.

        • Ten efficiency apartments where residents coming out of alcohol and other drug treatment could live for up to 18 months.

        Advocates for the homeless have applauded the project as a landmark way to provide continuing care and solutions for the many obstacles that face the homeless.

        But business owners who would have operated near the center said it would have eaten up valuable parking and placed another social service agency in a neighborhood that already has its share.

        The Covington Business Council opposes the project, as does the law firm of Adams Brooking Stepner Wolterman & Dusing, which recently spent more than $2 million rehabbing an office building across from the proposed center site.


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