Concerns resurface over pilot homeless shelter

Concerned citizen Mary Butler addressed the council during the public comments portion of the Ontario City Council work session on Thursday night.

ONTARIO — Comments from the public were mixed on Thursday night in regards to the proposed pilot shelter project in Ontario city limits. Three citizens took time to address the Ontario City Council over their concerns during its work session.

Mary Butler, a concerned citizen who lives “directly across the street” from Nichols Accounting Group, which is the business neighboring the lot where the shelter will be, has reservations about the location of the site.

She said allowing the people in the surrounding neighborhood to address their concerns is important. She pointed out that in this part of the city, “As soon as it gets dark, people start messing around.”

The next speaker to take to the podium was Chris Artiach, also a concerned citizens and volunteer, whose concern stemmed from the the expiration of the five-month agreement with the city and what to do after the five-month pilot program comes to an end. Artiach said he’s currently in talks with a personal friend who owns a piece of property that is away from neighborhoods, but still in the community. The property in question is located near the Malheur County fairgrounds, and this means it’s under the jurisdiction of the county, not the city, according to Community Development Director Dan Cummings.

“What are we gonna do once the five months are up?” He reiterated this point by saying, “We all gotta be one team!”

Councilor Freddy Rodriguez said that this is a topic that needs to have a committee made up of citizens to advise the city on how to proceed, also stating that he felt the committee should not be a considered a “city committee.”

The third and final public comment came from Bob Kemble, representing Nichols Accounting Group. Kemble reminded the council that Nichols had previously voiced concerns about the location of the proposed tiny house project and “were assured that we would be a part of creating the rules.”

He further explained that so far the only thing they had received was an email early on in the process.

Kemble said that it is a concern to Nichols to keep their staff and clients safe.

“It is appropriate to let the people involved know … people need a voice,” he said.

Kemble expressed the need for Nichols and the surrounding neighborhood to be informed of what the city and the participating organizations are planning on doing. He then asked why no notice was given of the actions that are being proposed and what kind of dwelling codes allow for these tiny houses to be utilized.

There was no direct response from the council to Kemble regarding notification.

However, Mayor Riley Hill addressed Kemble’s concern saying, “I remember that Nichols was to be involved.”

Hill went on to say that so far nothing has happened down at the site and “we’re creeping toward summer.”

Cummings explained in a phone interview this morning that the reason no notifications were sent to surrounding homeowners or businesses was due to the fact that there is no conditional-use permit in place.

Cummings said that if there was a permit, he would have been legally obligated to send out notices to nearby property owners. He said since there was no legal obligation, it at the discretion of the city manager whether to send out courtesy notices.

Cummings said if he had sent out notices to property owners, he would have ended up sending out 10 letters as that is the number of residences within the area.

City Manager Adam Brown said during the meeting that he will be planning a neighborhood meeting “in the next week or so,” and will be physically handing out fliers to the residents and businesses in the surrounding area inviting them to be a part of the meeting and provide their insights.

As of press time, no specific date or time has been announced for this neighborhood meeting.

A request for comment from Brown this morning regarding why he was planning to hand out fliers to residents and businesses versus notifying affected property owners, who may not live nearby but still own property, was unreturned by deadline.

Also sought was information regarding how far of an area around the shelter site he plans to personally canvas.

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