CHIPPEWA FALLS — Three weeks after tabling a decision on allowing two tiny homes at a church on the south side of Chippewa Falls, the City Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve a conditional use permit for the movable shelters for the homeless.
Chippewa Valley Bible Church, 531 E. South Ave., already has the two tiny homes available — one was built by church members; the other was constructed by a Bloomer High School class.
The council decided on a 4-3 vote at its Oct. 17 meeting to delay approving the shelters for use immediately, with several council members expressing their concerns about the tiny homes being close to Halmstad Elementary School. The council indicated at that time it would review its ordinance on tiny homes in February, when that policy had been in place for a year.
Councilman CW King requested the item come up for reconsideration Tuesday.
“With winter coming, we need to get this done,” King said. “That’s why I wanted to get this off the table and get it up for a vote now.”
Councilman Chuck Hull noted that anyone staying in tiny homes is given a thorough background check before being allowed to stay there.
Councilman Bob Hoekstra, who represents that neighborhood, was the lone vote against the permit. At the Oct. 17 meeting, he expressed his concern that the church isn’t near a grocery store, a police station or other services for homeless. He also didn’t like the proximity to the school.
A tiny home is about 8 by 12 feet and mobile on a trailer. It features a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete, between construction and furnishings.
The council heard from numerous people Tuesday who all spoke in favor of allowing the tiny homes at the church. The Rev. Karel Hanhart of First Presbyterian Church said 100 families come through his office in need of a variety of services.
“We’ve never had an issue,” Hanhart said. “So if there is a concern about a homeless person living in a tiny home, I don’t think there is need for a concern.”
Financial adviser Dennis Hunt, 1360 Waldheim Road, spoke in favor of the tiny homes.
“It fills a need in the community,” Hunt said. “People are donating their time and effort to make this happen.”
Mike Henke, a former councilman, noted there is a homeless shelter for veterans, Klein Hall, on the grounds of the Northern Wisconsin Center in the city. He noted that Klein Hall has provided shelter for 300 guests in the past decade, and there haven’t been any issues with homeless people being near children at the nearby alternative high school.
Tom Drehmel of the Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition read several testimonials of homeless people in the city and their struggles to find shelter.
“They aren’t criminals, they aren’t pedophiles — these are people who just need a place to stay,” Drehmel said.
Mayor Greg Hoffman asked for a show of hands from the packed council chambers — with an overflow crowd spilling into the hall — and everyone present was in favor of allowing the tiny homes.
“We understand the concerns, and we appreciate the comments,” Hoffman said.
In February, the council approved a conditional use permit for two tiny homes to be placed at Trinity United Methodist Church, 201 W. Central St., downtown. Police Chief Matt Kelm noted there have been no complaints stemming from those shelters.
Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Mission Coalition — a group of 17 area churches including Landmark Christian and Trinity United Methodist — has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed.
The City Council passed an ordinance in February to allow tiny homes to be operated in city limits. The permit states that the portable toilet must be emptied daily in the church’s bathroom. It also states there is a zero-tolerance policy on illegal activities, and alcohol, illegal drugs and guns or other weapons are banned from the homes.
Other rules stated in the special use permit include that no outside guests are allowed, cars must be parked in parking lots and not on lawns, and no open flames — including candles or cigarettes — are allowed inside. Users of the homes are required to lock the door whenever they leave the premises.
Landmark Christian Church Pastor Mike Cohoon recently said tiny homes have provided more than 800 nights of shelter for 11 different homeless people. Without the homes, homeless people would have attempted to obtain vouchers for hotels.
“That’s more than $50,000 worth of service to the community,” Cohoon said.
Grant awarded for park project
The Erickson Park Project has received another grant from the state Department of Natural Resources, valued at $136,591.
The group behind the project plans to build a handicap-accessible fishing pier near Glen Loch dam, add parking, refurbish the shoreline with kayak and boat launches, and place a pedestrian and bicycle bridge that would cross Duncan Creek.
City parks director Dick Hebert said the group now has to raise about $288,000 on the $1.86 million project. The goal is to begin construction next spring with completion by spring 2019.
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