Despite the zoning hearing board saying the service a city ministry provided is needed in the community, it denied a request Thursday for two zoning variances, which would have allowed a residence to serve as a boarding house on High Street.
The board voted 4-0 to deny the variances, which would have allowed a boarding house at a 957 High St. home that is in a residential zone. Boarding houses must be in commercial or institutional zones.
The request was rejected by the city planning commission on Tuesday.
Pastor Velinda Webb-Smith rents the home and allowed those who needed help "getting back on their feet" a place to stay or wash their clothes.
"I have been taking people in who have no place to go," Webb-Smith said. "... I can't just leave them on the street so what I've been doing is bringing them into my home."
Because the house is in a residential zone, only three people who are not related can live in the residence at one time. Webb-Smith said five people currently are living in the home, including herself and her husband.
Webb-Smith said she has taken in individuals who recently have been released from prison or who were living in their cars or in shelters. She added the police never have responded to any disturbances at the residence since she began living there and she was not behind on any bills.
The board's main concern is that any variance granted stays with the property, not with a particular inhabitant. So if Webb-Smith was to move, the next renter still could use the residence as a boarding house no matter what their motives.
Webb-Smith renewed a yearlong lease for the property in October.
Although some who have been helped by Webb-Smith were present and spoke at the hearing, there was some opposition from neighboring property owners.
Anthony Komarnicki, who owns several properties around the house in question, said he was worried about the parking situation because of having so many individuals at the house at one time.
If the seven-bedroom property was approved as a boarding house, it could have housed about 19 individuals but would need the same amount of off-street parking spaces. It has about three off-street parking spaces.
Like the board, Komarnicki also was concerned about what would happen if Webb-Smith would leave.
Fire Chief C. Dean Heinbach said, in his opinion, the residence was not "conducive" for the intended use.
Webb-Smith pleaded with the board to make "an exception to the rule," saying the people she served had nowhere else to go.
"Sometimes life is more important than the rules," she said. " ... That's what I'm asking for: an exception to the rule for a life."
Before voting, the board commended Webb-Smith for her work but did not approve her request. Mary Lou Baldys, board member, said she was conflicted while making her decision between her "head and heart."
When asked after the meeting what she would do now that her request was denied, Webb-Smith said she wasn't sure.
"I don't know," she said. "It makes no sense."
Webb-Smith added that she would continue to help those who need it.