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Planning Panel Rejects Church’s Shelter Plan

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Southern Baptist preacher who has fought the city for months over a homeless camp at the church lost his battle Wednesday when the Planning Commission unanimously denied his permit for a permanent shelter on church grounds.

Faced with a last-minute ultimatum from Pastor Wiley S. Drake to approve his plans without conditions, the commissioners said they had no choice but to deny the shelter.

Drake had submitted a letter late Wednesday afternoon to the commission indicating he would not agree to any conditions on the plan.

“We do not believe the city has the right to dictate how, when and where we may minister to the people who come to us for urgent help,” Drake said, in the letter.

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Commissioner Robert Niccum said that he was outraged by Drake’s attitude.

“I’m really frustrated that we as a community reached out to this church to try to enter into a dialogue,” Niccum said. “Pastor Drake once again spits in the eye of the community. He wants brinkmanship instead of dialogue. . . . I cannot support giving carte blanche to Drake to do anything he wants on that property.”

After the meeting, a defiant Drake said the church has no plans to discontinue aid to the homeless. The church allows about 30 individuals to sleep on its property each night, and serves hundreds of meals weekly.

“I don’t plan to go anywhere,” Drake said after the meeting. “It’s business as usual. We’re going to feed people. We’re going to clothe people. We’re going to minister to people. We’re a church.”

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Nearly a month had passed since Drake’s architectural plans for the homeless shelter first came before the Planning Commission on Jan. 22. However, they postponed the vote until Wednesday night.

The January meeting got bogged down when Drake balked at some of the 27 conditions the city had drafted to ensure civic oversight of the shelter’s operation. The commissioners said last month that they wanted the conditions to be hammered out before they gave final approval, because the issue had become so contentious.

Originally, the permanent shelter building was a compromise to end a long-running dispute between the city and the preacher. The dispute began last summer when the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Task Force, made up of a group of code enforcement officers, inspected the church.

They cited Drake for 11 building problems and for violating the city’s anti-camping ordinance by allowing the homeless to sleep in their cars in the church parking lot. Drake said his work to aid the poor was a religious mission, protected by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution, and he refused to evict the campers.

The hostilities escalated quickly and dramatically as widespread publicity attracted even more of the county’s destitute to the site.

Finally, Drake reached an agreement with the city prosecutor’s office in September. He could continue giving shelter to the poor if he submitted plans for a permanent shelter on church grounds.

Those plans, and the set of conditions, reached the Planning Commission last month. By that time, homeowners near the church had launched their own campaign to halt the sheltering of the homeless. The poor were overrunning their neighborhoods, driving up crime and sending down property values, they said.

But the commissioners refused to rule on the church’s plans until Drake and city officials had negotiated all the conditions.

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Drake argued that the city changed the rules midstream.

“We felt like our agreement was to diligently proceed with the building,” Drake said, referring to the original compromise plan with the city. “They changed the agreement as well as brought in all these conditions. . . . We are ready to go back to square one with this thing.”

The primary sticking point involved a city requirement that Drake follow Orange County Shelter Guidelines, which are used by other shelters within the county. Shelters adapt their own regulations using the manual as a guideline.


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