Shelter locations, city attorney position

·3 min read

Aug. 29—The Norman City Council will tackle an issue that has split the council in previous discussions concerning homeless shelter service locations, and a controversial housing development, Tuesday night in a study session.

After the city was forced to close its shelter at 325 E. Comanche St., staff issued a request for proposal (RFP) to find a provider which might take over the program.

Two nonprofit organizations that provide food and temporary shelter, the Salvation Army of Norman and Food & Shelter, Inc., submitted proposals.

According to the RFP found on the city's website, the shelter will be a low-barrier facility intended to shelter anyone living outdoors excluding youth and children, up to 50 people — approximately 20-30 men and 15-20 women. Low-barrier shelters do not preclude guests with substance or mental health challenges.

The request indicates that service and companion animals should be accepted, and no guest would be denied a stay based on "criminal convictions, poor credit or eviction history." Sobriety and treatment services are voluntary. It would not require identification.

An operator can impose rules to limit behaviors such as substance abuse.

"Low-barrier shelters may establish requirements that limit the use of drugs and alcohol in common or shared areas of the facility," the request reads. "In addition, facilities should establish behavioral expectations that limit disruptive or violent behavior resulting from intoxication. However, the requirement to abstain completely from alcohol or drug use is not a component of low-barrier facilities."

The program is expected to provide case management to transition guests to permanent housing, the city's request reads.

"The hope is that the new shelter will be achieved through the pairing of City funding and partnerships with the public, private, faith-based, and community based sectors," the request reads.

Staff identified a location on the Griffin Memorial campus, a mental health facility owned by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. However, the agency decided to sell those properties ahead of plans to build a new hospital and campus.

Two councilors at the time did not support that location. Ward 3 Kelly Lynn and Ward 5 Rarchar Tortorello expressed concern that sex offenders would be drawn to the facility and the building was too close to school aged children which violated state law.

Other business

On another controversy, the council will convene into executive session to discuss a lawsuit filed last November by Shaz Investments, Inc.

The council voted 7-2 to deny Shaz Investments owner Jalal Farzaneh's rezoning request to build 147 homes in the existing Eagle Cliff housing addition after a nearby property owner. Lynn and Tortorello voted for it.

The addition's homeowner association protested at Planning Commission and council meetings.

None of the councilors who voted no cited a specific ordinance to support their position, but nearby owners of Potts Family Farms contended it would aggravate flooding on their land.

The farm's owners hired an attorney and more than 50 letters of protest were filed with the City Clerk by the October 12 council meeting. Residents in the existing Eagle Cliff neighborhood claimed the development's expansion would aggravate stormwater runoff woes.

City staff approved the project along with two detention ponds the developer promised to build because it would prevent any runoff from reaching Bishop's Creek which floods.

Shaz's attorney Sean Rieger said at the time that the council's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, irrational and unjustified by any rational interest of government," and vowed to win his client "millions" in damages.

The council will also discuss its potential new relationship with the City Attorney, Kathryn Walker. Following a City Charter amendment election, the city attorney will be hired by the council instead of the City Manager.

The city attorney formerly answered to the city manager, but the amendment creates the position as an at-will employee, hirable and fireable by the council with at least five votes.

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.