On October 31, Charlottesville city Zoning Administrator Read Brodhead sent a letter to Louise Wright informing her that her plan to offer transitional housing to the homeless was in violation of a nonconforming use permit she had been granted a year earlier to run the former assisted living facility on 218 Ridge St. As it was the day before she was to open her doors to 26 homeless, one could not fault her for feeling slighted, even picked on. "They needed beds," she said at the time. "Well, we have beds."
Monticello Ridge can’t house the homeless until changes are made to the zoning.
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A month and a half later, at a Board of Zoning Appeals, she discovered that the problem was a rather simple one. In her zoning district of West Main South, what she is trying to do is not only not allowed, it doesn’t exist. "Transitional housing is not defined in current zoning," Brodhead told the Board, assembled in the basement of City Hall. Accordingly, the zoning administrator had determined that what Wright was offering was closer in practice to a boarding house (also a zoning violation), in that she would be providing room and meals.
Wright contended with this charge. "We never intended not to have assisted living there," she said, even though she let her license expire in mid-October. "Homeless people come in with all types of maladies. They’re just another population of people." As the Board of Zoning Appeals saw it, however, assisted living for "the aged, the infirm or the disabled" was too narrow of a definition to include able-bodied homeless.
"No one here is questioning the nobility of your mission," member Jon Fink clarified. "We need this in this city…but our hands are tied here." As a result, the Board encouraged Wright to renew her assisted living license and go before the Planning Commission and City Council to ask that transitional housing be added to her zoning district by amendment. "I believe you will find sympathy," Fink concluded, recommending that the Board support Brodhead’s original ruling. The five members looked around for someone to make a motion. "Nobody wants to do it," Cindy Zug explained. Finally someone did, and the Board voted in favor, denying Wright for the moment. "Are there any votes in opposition?" Board Vice Chair Robert Stevens summarily asked. "Nay," Wright said to resigned laughter.
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