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Variance For Women And Children’s Shelter Denied

The UCAN City Mission is looking to open a women and children’s rescue shelter. The mission had been looking at the former Dibert Home in West Ellicott, but a use variance application was denied by the town Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

A proposal that would have set the groundwork to turn the former Dibert Home in West Ellicott into a women and children’s rescue shelter has been nixed due to the town’s zoning law.

Representatives from the UCAN City Mission and the current owner of the property at 484 Fairmount Ave. went before the Ellicott Zoning Board of Appeals/Planning Board on Thursday regarding an application to obtain a use variance. The structure is in an area zoned for professional office space, and opening a shelter would have required a variance by the board.

Michael Panebianco, an attorney representing UCAN, said there is a current need for a local shelter to assist women and children, pointing out that in 2019 there were a reported 206 women identified as homeless. The proposed shelter would be for women with children; no single women or men would be permitted inside, with two full-time staff on the premise at all times.

“Currently, they run a home for men in town where they provide assistance in housing and services for people that need it,” Panebianco said of the UCAN City Mission. “They provide a safe place to live, life-skills training, health care and hygiene, local church connections. They hold the people that live there accountable — they stress accountability, and they offer recovery services for those who need it.”

“What they’d like to do now,” he continued, “is open a place at 484 Fairmount Ave. for a women and children’s center. This would house women and children who need help, who need housing, and all the other services that the men currently receive.”

The mission in Jamestown currently provides a variety of services to men, including life skills training, job outreach and local church connections. Residents on average stay at the shelter, located on First Street in the city, for about a month.

About 30 letters of support for the project were included in UCAN’s application for a use variance.

The property was best known as the Dibert Home, a senior care facility that included rooms for about 13 residents. The previous owner had obtained a special use permit from the town to operate the senior home.

The Dibert Home closed and the property was purchased about three years ago by Gary Lynn, who on Thursday said he did so in order to sell it to UCAN for the rescue shelter.

“That was the only reason I bought it,” Lynn told the board.

In order to obtain a use variance, according to town law, applicants must meet four criteria: applicants cannot realize a reasonable return; the property’s plight is due to unique circumstances; the variance would not alter the essential character of the neighborhood; and the hardship requiring a variance was not self-created.

Town attorney William Duncanson said town law requires property owners to look at every option for a “reasonable return” before seeking a use variance.

Lynn said the property sat on the market for three years before he purchased it for about $130,000, and noted the amount of work the property needs in its current state including asbestos abatement.

The owner of the adjoining property at 490 Fairmount Ave. spoke against the application, stating that none of the criteria had been met. The board ultimately agreed, voting unanimously to deny the variance.

Jeff Rotunda, UCAN executive director, attended the board meeting and thanked the members for showing support for a women and children’s shelter. He said while “initially disappointed” with the denial, he’s optimistic the nonprofit can find a location — whether in Jamestown, the town of Ellicott or elsewhere — for a rescue shelter.

“We’re certainly open to other suggestions,” Rotunda said. “We’ll continue with the men’s (shelter), many who are doing great with employment. More guys are being employed than in the past and this is during the pandemic. We know we will move forward with a women’s shelter, it’s just a matter of where and when.”

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