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Champlain Housing Trust Disagrees With Town Zoning Notice

Patti Daniels
Champlain Housing Trust says the Harbor Place homeless shelter does not violate local zoning codes. The Town of Shelburne says the shelter must apply for a zoning permit to continuing operating.

A lawyer representing Champlain Housing Trust says an emergency housing facility in Shelburne does not violate local zoning codes.

The town of Shelburne sent the housing trust a letter in September saying Harbor Place was in violation of the town's zoning bylaws and that the organization would have to either apply for a change of use permit or shut down.

Champlain Housing Trust owns Harbor Place, which opened in the former Econo Lodge on Shelburne Road in November 2013 to provide temporary emergency housing.

The town and the housing trust are at odds over whether Harbor Place is being operated as a homeless shelter or as a motel.

The housing trust maintains that the facility continues to operate as a motel and Lawyer Brian Dunkiel has challenged the town's claim that new zoning permits are required.

"Prior to receiving your letter, I also conducted an extensive investigation analyzing the current uses of the property and the Shelburne Zoning Bylaws, and concluded that there have been no changes of use, or new or additional uses of the property," Dunkiel wrote in the letter which was obtained by VPR News.

The Champlain Housing Trust paid $1.85 million for the 59-room motel, with the state promising to pay for at least 30 rooms per night.

The state saw it as a way to save money on its motel voucher program for  homeless families and individuals.

The Department for Children and Families has seen the motel voucher program significantly increase over the past few years.

Last winter the state spent 80 percent more than it did the previous winter to have homeless individuals and families stay in area motels.

At Harbor Place the state pays about $38 per night, and, on average, pays $70 for a motel room.

Champlain Housing Trust attorney Brian Dunkiel said the trust "will not be coerced through the threat of enforcement into discontinuing its lawful and proper use of the property as a motel."

The Department for Children and Families said when Harbor Place opened that it would also be more efficient to provide services for the population in the motel, and that it could be model for other communities in the state.

But Harbor Place has run into problems with the administration in Shelburne.

Earlier this year there were community forums held to address safety concerns from Shelburne residents.
The letter Colangelo sent to Champlain Housing Trust came after months of back-and-forth communications between the two sides.

In the response Dunkiel sent to local officials, he said that while Town Manager Joe Colangelo alleges that the shelter violates temporary housing and emergency housing zoning codes, Dunkiel could find no such codes in the town's zoning bylaws.  

In the letter, Dunkiel said Champlain Housing Trust "will not be coerced through the threat of enforcement into discontinuing its lawful and proper use of the property as a motel."

Shelburne must now decide if it will issue a zoning violation notice to Champlain Housing Trust. 

Colangelo declined to comment for this story.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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