MUST Ministries has long had plans for its 6.33-acre property near the corner of Bells Ferry Road and Highway 41 in Marietta. On Friday, the non-profit dedicated to helping the homeless filed for a new distance variance on the property, MUST said.
Board members hope new information will encourage the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals to reconsider a denial issued in 2017.
The spot is destined to be the future site of a new homeless shelter as well as space for a food pantry, clothing closet, job training and office and administrative space for the non-profit, but which part of the property will house the shelter remains an open question.
In 2017, MUST withdrew an appeal to build a 130-bed shelter on the spot. The land already has homeless shelters listed under acceptable uses, but MUST needed a variance from the city to build within 750 feet of residential property. That request was denied by the Board of Zoning Appeals after outcry from neighbors concerned about a group of homeless people living in some nearby woods.
MUST maintained that building on part of the property within the 750-foot zone would have been ideal because of the terrain but went ahead with plans to build elsewhere on the property so the shelter would not be outside the 750-foot zone.
Don Hausfeld, MUST board member and chairman of the development project, said new information has come to light that he thinks will boost MUST’s case.
“The residential piece on the other side of Bells Ferry is not residential,” he said. “It’s residentially zoned, but it will never be residential. It’s surrounded by light industrial and commercial.”
Hausfeld said the piece of residentially-zoned property is currently being marketed toward commercial buyers, and all the parcels surrounding it could be home to homeless shelters under their current zonings.
“If you eliminated that (residential) parcel, that investment property, the only property corner that would be close to 750 feet would be one in the upper right corner that just barely touches our property,” he said. “And the closest residential house to our property is over 1,100 feet (away).”
Hausfeld said MUST has plans drawn up to build the shelter at the front of the property that would keep the shelter free of the 750-foot barrier, but that would require the shelter to front directly onto Highway 41.
“That is not what is in MUST’s best interests, and we don’t think it’s what the board of zoning appeals had in mind. … The most effective location for the shelter would be to put it at the back of the property, according to MUST’s engineers, architects, contractors and operational experts who have studied the property for months and months,” he said. “That would put the administration facility on the most visible site, directly on Highway 41.”
MUST Ministries Chairman and CEO Ike Reighard said the group’s current shelter, Elizabeth Inn, which occupies a former church building, isn’t big enough to handle the number of people who need help.
“The need for more space has become critical,” he said. “MUST needs more beds, more family rooms, more dining hall seats, more program space and more training area. With the fastest growing aspect of poverty being suburban poverty, we must respond.”
According to MUST, the 72-bed Elizabeth Inn Shelter is forced to turn away between 200 and 300 people a month, 74% of whom are women and children.
MUST reports serving 33,200 people a year, mostly the working poor.
“To help the homeless segment, our goal now is to build 130 beds in a new shelter designed specifically to meet the needs of those living in poverty,” he said. “Currently, we are in a repurposed church that was never intended to house people 24/7. We are operating one of the most effective programs in the country in an old church, Sunday School class building, trailers and crowded facilities, but our goal is to do more.”
He said a new facility would not only give MUST more bed space but also enhance the dignity and privacy of the residents.
MUST also announced plans to launch its public capital campaign to fund its new campus in September. The campaign will be called “Build a Home for Hope.”
The campaign’s goal is $12.1 million for phase one, but foundations and corporate grants have already moved the project to the $10.8 million mark, Reighard said.
“Our own board launched the project with individual commitments totaling $1.7 million, and that spoke volumes to others who were eager to get involved,” Reighard said. “The support for this project has been phenomenal. Everyone we have met with understands the depth of the poverty problem. We have been so honored to hear donors compliment MUST’s reputation as a leader in fighting poverty and want to be a part of something good and meaningful in our community.”