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Possible homeless center upsets nearby residents

Posted at 10:48 PM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-22 14:52:50-04

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - It is not often a Tucson zoning meeting fills city council chambers, but Thursday that was the case as Zoning Examiner Jim Mazzocco heard from West University residents and Sister Jose's Women's Center about a property at 7th Avenue and 4th Street.

Sister Jose's Women's Center is a homeless shelter for women in Tucson. They are currently located near Five Points at Stone and 18th Street but want to move into a property on the corner of 7th and 4th which would be about five times bigger.

"We have outgrown the space we have," said Jean Fedigan, Executive Director of Sister Jose's.

The reason the issue is before the zoning examiner has to do with the property itself. It can be used for a shelter under its current zoning, except it is too close to residential areas. They are seeking an exception from the examiner to purchase the property.

Currently the shelter helps about 50 women per day, a maximum of 20 women are allowed to be there at any given time. During the winter months they allow a small number of women to stay overnight. With the larger space, Fedigan says they could help closer to 65 women per day and have 30 of them inside at a time. They could also increase the number of women that stay overnight in the winter.

"Larger quarters to have meeting rooms and classrooms as well as provide the daily meeting of the necessities of the women," said Fedigan. 

Each day they provide food to the women and give them a place to rest and bathe.

Residents in the surrounding neighborhood are against letting the center move in.

"They are almost uniformly opposed to the shelter," said Jeff Sklar, an attorney that represents property owners in the area.

He says 70 percent of those who live within 300 feet of the property signed a petition saying they do not want the center.

"The question is, is this right use for the space, the neighborhood?" Sklar said.

Sklar says homeless shelters increase crime in a given area and it could bring property values down by 25 to 30 percent. Foot traffic to and from the home is also an issue with neighbors, they fear having a homeless center in their neighborhood will mean they homeless will begin to camp nearby.

"[It] creates a lot of risks the neighbors view as unacceptable," said Sklar.

West University is also home to a lot of University of Arizona students. Isabelle Smith is a UA Junior who lives across the street, she agrees with many of her neighbors.

"Makes a house full of girls seem a little uneasy," said Smith.

Businesses in the area surrounding Sister Jose's currently location on W 18th do not see the problems residents in West University are concerned with.

"Both the volunteers and the women that have been staying there are super respectful," said Brian Haskins, owner of 5 Points Market and Restaurant. "Our relationship has been great."

Haskins says they had one issue in three years, and the women's center quickly resolved it when he brought it to their attention. He says the nearby residents need to have an open conversation with the Sister Jose's should they move in.

As for property value, the attorney representing Sister Jose's says says in the three years they have been in their current location, property values have actually gone up in the immediate surrounding area. Fedigan says it will behoove the to keep values high because they would own the property at 7th and 4th.

The was the second hearing regarding the issue. The zoning examiner says he will make the decision within five days. Either side can appeal within 30 days of the decision.