FARMINGTON — After scrapping plans to open a new family shelter on Main Street in Farmington, the Western Maine Homeless Outreach is reviewing its options with a new, perhaps unlikely ally: the local resident who objected to their planning board application.

Steve Bracy, chairman of WMHO’s board and pastor of Living Waters Assembly of God, said he welcomes the help offered by abutting property owner John Moore. But action cannot come soon enough for those in need.

“The church shelter has 16 beds, and it is not enough to serve the needs of Franklin county,” said Bracy. “Just in the last week, we turned away a family of eleven that lost its home to fire. We did not have enough beds to give them a place to sleep. We had no choice because we don’t have the capacity.”

WMHO set its sights on the Holman House because it is close to public schools, government services, libraries and post office. Farmington’s Planning Board voted at its June 9 meeting to allow the project to move forward. But one neighbor of the proposed Main Street location objected, claiming that the definition of a family homeless shelter did not meet the standard of town’s zoning requirements.

While no ordinance specifically addresses homeless shelters, town attorney Amanda Meader had advised the planning board of a previous Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that if an ordinance doesn’t ban a particular use, that use can be considered. If there is no clear definition, the board could look at all uses in the Table of Uses and determine where a homeless shelter reasonably fits.

Based on this assessment, the planning board initially voted 4-3 to approve the shelter, categorizing it as a group home, which is allowed under town ordinance. However, abutting neighbors John and Jen Moore objected to the decision on the grounds that zoning rules require any group home to be licensed by the state of Maine.

Following a hearing on Monday, July 8, the Board reversed its decision, citing the zoning rules raised by the Moores. According to WHMO Operations Director Bobbie Jo Wheeler, there is no licensing requirement for shelters, so they cannot conform to that part of the ordinance.

Two dozen people testified at the hearing, attended by more than 140 residents, with 75% voicing their favor for the proposal. But all who spoke emphasized that homelessness needs to be addressed in Farmington and surrounding communities.

Even before the board voted to rescind its June 9 decision, Moore had reached out to the WMHO’s board of directors, offering through his testimony to organize and chair a committee committed to identifying an appropriate location and fundraising to achieve it. “I think there is a way we can all work together to get services to the homeless,” he said.

WMHO is eager to move forward with Moore and other community members as a partner. “We have not executed a capital campaign for the Holman House plan yet, as we were never able to get the Planning Board completely behind the proposal,” Bracy said. “But we are so pleased with the great support that Farmington has shown to fight homelessness, with Mr. Moore and others stepping forward.”

Bracy said the WMHO Board will meet on July 11; Moore was expected to discuss future plans with staff members ahead of Thursdays’s meeting. Bracy was unsure if the two sides had yet spoken but he is happy to have new partners on the project.

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