At Monday’s Development Review Committee (DRC) meeting, the committee unanimously voted to deny a permit for the City Walk Urban Mission, located on Mahan Drive, to transition from a temporary homeless shelter to a permanent facility.
The denial is based on the finding that the facility would create a “private nuisance” in the area. The committee heard several hours of public comments echoing concerns that have been voiced by residents and business owners in the Mahan Drive area.
The vote on the shelter has become a referendum on the homeless issue in Leon County which goes beyond the problems associated with the City Walk shelter. The COVID pandemic has resulted in decisions that have facilitated homeless encampments across Leon County and the relocation of the homeless to hotels. This has resulted in concerns from neighborhood residents and business owners in the impacted areas.
Operators of the City Walk shelter argue that they are providing services that are in demand and that others will not provide. In addition, it appears that City Walk is prepared to deal with challenges to its mission. The group has a ten-year lease on the converted office space, and although their application to provide overnight services was denied, they can continue to provide services to the homeless population during the day. City Walk Executive Director Renee Miller said City Walk intends to continue providing services during the day.
The ramifications of the DRC’s vote — including where the homeless population being housed overnight at City Walk will relocate — are still unclear.
The City Walk temporary shelter has caused controversy since opening in November 2020. Residents of the Mahan Drive area have expressed concerns about registered sex offenders residing in the shelter as well as increased instances of loitering around local businesses and neighborhoods.
Business owners in the area have detailed the impact of the shelter on the ability to conduct normal operations and residents have described altercations while walking in the area.
Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey singled out City Walk in January during comments about the “crisis situation in this community” related to the needs and the impact of the homeless. Dailey said he does not support the temporary homeless shelter run by City Walk and “If I could wave a magic wand, I would shut it down immediately.”
The concern by residents in the area is that operators of the shelter are seeking to operate after the emergency situation from the COVID pandemic is over.
In February, City Walk submitted a Type B Site Plan application seeking to transition to a permanent facility. According to a report prepared by Growth Management, staff recommends that the DRC deny the permitting application.
According to the report, “Information provided by the Tallahassee Police Department, staff contacts to surrounding property owners and correspondence received from owners and tenants of adjacent and nearby properties has led to the determination that the facility would cause or create a private nuisance to adjacent properties should it be approved and remain in operation.”
The report states that the shelter “has been a private nuisance to adjacent and nearby properties since its establishment” and cites reports of loitering, harassment of business customers and staff, panhandling, trespassing on residential properties and other issues. The report also found that the shelter does not meet security criteria.
According to the report, City Walk’s application did meet some criteria: there is accessible mass transit nearby, the facility can accommodate its capacity and the design of the facility matches the architectural theme of nearby buildings.