GLENS FALLS - The plan is off for the Open Door soup kitchen to relocate to 178 Warren St. and expand services after the Glens Falls Planning Board voted 4-0 to reject the site plan for the proposed project.
“Right now it’s dead, and the application for the grant is dead now,” said Harold “Bud” Taylor, president of the Open Door board.
Taylor said the soup kitchen board will meet soon to discuss what direction to take.
Time to come up with an alternative is limited, as the soup kitchen faces an Oct. 1 deadline to be out of its current location in the Madden Hotel on South Street.
“I believe that God has a heart for the people, and that he will show the way to go,” said the Rev. Bruce Hersey, executive director of the Open Door.
The rejection came after about a dozen residents and business representatives, primarily from the 1st Ward, spoke against the proposed project, suggesting it did not fit with the neighborhood’s character.
The Open Door board had proposed relocating to the former Glens Falls Home for Aged Women building on Warren Street, and expanding the soup kitchen program to include such things as employment training and a 30-bed emergency housing shelter.
The Open Door has to leave its current location because the Greater Glens Falls Development Corp. is buying the Madden Hotel to resell the building to Glens Falls National Bank and Trust Co. for an expansion of the bank’s downtown headquarters.
Lloyd Cote, administrator of The Pines at Glens Falls, a 120-bed nursing home across Prospect Street from the building where the soup kitchen wanted to go, said he was concerned about security, trespassing and people loitering near the nursing home property.
“We don’t want to see Warren Street become a destination for homeless people from outside the area,” he said.
Paul Zenanek, a neighborhood resident, said 140 people signed a petition protesting the proposed location for the soup kitchen.
Alan Redeker, chairman of the Hyde Collection Art Museum board, said having a homeless shelter near the museum could lead to other museums refusing to lend art work to the Hyde Collection, which would hurt the museum’s ability to host exhibits that draw tourists from outside the region.
Redeker said the museum does not oppose having a soup kitchen at the 178 Warren St. building, but opposes the homeless shelter expansion.
Taylor said the Open Door could not afford the building without revenue from the homeless shelter.
Taylor said no Level 2 or Level 3 sex offenders would have been allowed at the shelter, and that residents would have been supervised and would have participated in structured activities, such as counseling and employment training.
“If we can turn around two or three people and make them useful citizens, maybe some day they will be putting artwork in the Hyde,” he said.
“We’re not talking about just feeding someone or giving them a place to sleep. We’re talking about changing lives,” said David Bridges, a soup kitchen supporter.
Bridges said he is a recovered drug addict who got help through the soup kitchen and other programs and is now “gainfully employed” as a crane operator.
Residents would have been fingerprinted and photographed, and there would have been tight security, Hersey said.
Others expressed concern about the impact on the Abraham Wing School District of having another tax-exempt property in the neighborhood, and voiced concern about the safety of children coming and going to school in the neighborhood.
“We kind of feel this is being shoved down our throats,” said Abraham Wing School Board President Michael Busch, who also is the city’s 1st Ward councilman.
Deanne Healy, a soup kitchen supporter, said residents don’t seem to be concerned about risks already in the neighborhood.
“You know how many bar rooms are around the corner?” she asked.
Healy said sex offenders already can live unsupervised in the neighborhood.
Planning Board members said they realize the importance of the soup kitchen, but feel the proposed location is a poor choice.
“I really have a difficult challenge with locating that where it’s at,” said Planning Board member Jeff Farley.
Planning Board member Michael Girard said he thought the 178 Warren St. location was too far from downtown to be practical.
Taylor said a soup kitchen and housing shelter are allowed under the current zoning.
Therefore, his understanding was that the Planning Board only had jurisdiction over the appearance and layout of the building and surrounding property.
Daniel Brown, an architectural consultant to the Planning Board, said his only concern, from an architecture and site plan perspective, was the with the proposed location of a generator.
Planning Board Chairman Daniel Bruno said the board is obligated to consider the neighborhood impact of all projects.
“We have to consider the impact to the neighborhood, regardless of the zoning,” he said.
Planning Board member Jane Reid said there is a section of law that stipulates neighborhood impact be considered.
“I assume it’s going to be well-run. It’s got a good board,” she said. “But it’s the nature of the beast.”
Taylor said, under that criteria, the soup kitchen might not be acceptable anywhere.
“I think by not getting approval for Warren Street, in a commercial zone, and not being wanted on South Street, it’s kind of hard to imagine any street that’s going to be acceptable.” he said.
But Farley, a Planning Board member and business consultant, said the rejection could be an opportunity to draw public attention to the need for the soup kitchen.
“I think our rejection of this might elevate the awareness to where everyone would get involved,” he said, offering to volunteer his own services, if wanted.
Taylor said after the meeting he is concerned the Planning Board rejection “has established a bad precedent” under which businesses that meet the proper zoning can be rejected outright, without regard to architecture and site plan.