ordinance proposed to feed hungry legally in Richmond, VA FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 16:25:53 -0700 (PDT)

       FWD Richmond Times-Dispatch


       Tuesday, April 21, 1998

       Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

       Richmond churches in residential neighborhoods may finally be able to
       feed the hungry legally.

       A proposed ordinance advanced by the city Planning Commission
       yesterday gives the churches what they say they have had a right to all
       along: unrestricted permission to feed the hungry.

       But the proposal didn't get through the Planning Commission
       unquestioned, nor did it get the commission's approval.

       Because the commission couldn't muster a quorum of five voting
       members -- four were

       not there when the issue came up and a fifth abstained -- the ordinance
       was simply passed on to the council with no formal recommendation.
       The council will take up the matter next Monday night.

       But that was good enough for church representatives who attended
       yesterday's meeting. "Thank goodness," said Patti Russell, director of
       the meal ministry at Stuart Circle Parish.

       Her reaction to the apparent end of the long Planning Commission
       process came after she urged the commission to accept the language of
       the ordinance. "It's simple. It's straightforward."

       The ordinance basically would allow feeding programs as a "charitable
       or fellowship use within the church or place of worship" in a
       neighborhood. Church meal programs already are allowed in the
       downtown area.

       The city staff, though, did suggest some restrictions to that simple
       language. Senior Planner Roger York Jr. said the feeding programs
       should be restricted to "noncommercial uses" to block restaurants from
       using churches and should be limited to organizations with ties to the
       church. That would stop clubs with no church affiliations from using
       the buildings.

       Russell, though, said all that verbiage was unnecessary. She said the
       staff was "inventing dragons to slay."

       The Rev. Patrick J. Wilson III, executive director of the congress of
       National Black Clergy, said that suggested change "would bring us
       back full circle to where we started." And that could bring the church
       and the city back to court.

       The churches had agreed to drop a federal lawsuit challenging the city's
       restrictions on feeding programs after the city said it would remove
       them. If those restrictions were put back, the suit might also come
       Wilson said.

       "We did not contemplate we would still be here today debating this
       issue," he said.

       Planning Commission Chairman Willard M. Scribner, though, said the
       staff's concerns over the language were important. He suggested
       yesterday's discussion be delayed two weeks. That suggestion went

       The commission's action of passing the ordinance on to the council may
       bring to an end a protracted battle over the meal programs.

       The issue arose last year when some residents of the Fan District
       objected to a church feeding program operated by the Stuart Circle
       Parish in their neighborhood. Because of those objections, the council
       passed laws in July restricting feeding programs outside downtown to
       no more than seven times a year and no more than 30 people at a time.

       Before the laws were enforced, church leaders and advocates for the
       homeless mounted a protest. Council members admitted their error,
       reversed course, decided to repeal the laws and told the commission to
       come up with something the churches and residents could live with.

       Also yesterday, the Planning Commission recommended that Freedom
       House at 1201 Hull St. be allowed to expand its hours and open a
       winter shelter for 10 people.

       The organization now is forced to close from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily,
       which means the 40 or so people who live there in transitional housing
       must leave the building. That forces shift workers onto the streets in
       the middle of the day.

       Freedom House doesn't have a homeless shelter but would be allowed
       to have one for 10 people from October to April, if the council accepts
       the recommendation of the commission.

       Commission member Stephen V. Donahue, who is a South Richmond
       businessman, objected because, "Hull Street's becoming the social
       services delivery corridor." He asked the commission to delay the vote
       to give area business owners a chance to learn about the changes. His
       request was rejected.


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