Places of worship, places of rest

Churches can house the homeless under new ordinance

LINCOLN CITY — The Lincoln City Council voted unanimously, with all present, at their regular July 8 meeting to amend city zoning code to allow places of worship to serve as temporary overnight shelters for the homeless when the need arises.

The ordinance was proposed by the Lincoln City Planning Commission in late May, and initiated by the planning director, with two goals established. The first was to legalize limited emergency sheltering at places of worship, which some nonprofits were found to be doing “under the radar” last year despite then-current city code. The second was to change city code to authorize accessory uses that are identified in Oregon law’s definition of “places of worship” — which includes meal programs and providing housing or space for housing in a building that is detached from the place of worship.

“We’ve legalized what we knew was happening anyway,” summarized Mayor Dick Anderson on Monday night.

Under the new ordinance, non-residential places of worship may house the homeless for 90 days or less annually while complying with several requirements, which stem primarily from the Oregon Fire Code.

As for maximum occupancy, places of worship in commercial zones — General Commercial, Nelscott Plan’s Business and Beachside Mixed Use, Taft Village Core and Oceanlake Plan’s Main Street Interior Mixed Use and Oceanfront districts — can house up to 50 people, provided they have a minimum of 35 square feet for each person. In residential zones, the 35 square foot rule is the same, but the cap is lowered to 25 people.

In addition, the fire district must be notified when such temporary sheltering use is requested.

Councilor Rick Mark, ward 3, suggested writing a letter outlining the parameters and responsibilities of places of worship looking to shelter the homeless in more plain language, as he noted that the ordinance is written very legalistically. City Attorney Richard Appicello said he could work with planning director Lindsey Sehmel to create and distribute such a letter.

The ordinance was passed and adopted on July 8 and will take effect after 30 days, on Aug.7.


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