VIRGINIA

Plans for homeless shelter upsets some Arlington residents

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The controversy continues over a new homeless shelter slated for Arlington.

The county bought a seven-story office building on 14th Street North in Courthouse. Come 2014, five floors will house government workers; the other two floors will be open year-round to those sleeping on the streets.

Neighbors in the area want the homeless to have a roof over their heads, bit some worry about sandwiching a shelter between apartments and condos. While the shelter is likely two years away, some residents are already moving out.

Woodbury Heights Condo President Ken Robinson said, "This is Woodbury Heights. The apartment building that I live in; I'm up on the seventh floor, and over here is the Thomas Building."

About 35 feet is all that separates the courthouse condo from the steps of what will become Arlington's new homeless services center.

The county board voted unanimously in favor of the plans this past weekend.

"I would have liked to have known about it. I'm not comfortable with it," said Dorene Ditomasso, who lives in the area.

Robinson has lived in the area for more than 20 years. He says the fear of who will be moving in next door has many of his neighbors moving out.

"I know personally three people who have sold simply on the basis that the shelter is coming."

Jan-Michael Sacharko is the development director for Arlington Street People's Assistance Network (A-SPAN).

"We really want to assuage fears," said Sacharko.

He says A-SPAN's current shelter, which has been in Courthouse for 20 years, will move less than a quarter of a mile down the road - with police at its doorstep.

Sacharko added, "We've got the jail. We've got the sheriff's office, and we've got the building for the Homeless Service Center next to it about a block away."

The move will allow the center to house a minimum of 50 beds year-round and expand services to help Arlington's homeless rebound.

"We're not just a shelter. We have employment services, housing services, mental health services. We do that here as well, but we'll be doing it year-round," Sacharko continued.

But not everyone is convinced the move down the road makes sense.

Shauntee Bailey, who works in Courthouse, said, "I don't know if it's going to necessarily have negative effect over here. I know that these are big rental properties, so if that will be a selling point or diminish the property value around here."

The county spent $27 million just buying the new building. The total project, factoring in design, renovation and tenant relocation, could cost $42 million over five years. A mix of bonds and temporary loans will take care of most of the bills.

The county and A-SPAN want more community input on what happens next. They're hosting a series of public discussions and workshops over the next few months for feedback and planning.

The first meeting will be held Dec. 5 from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. at Key Elementary School. Community questions and concerns will be addressed at this meeting.

A second meeting, which will be an interactive workshop, will be held just over a week and a half later on Dec. 17. at the same location. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m.

A design review is scheduled for Jan. 14, 2013 from 7 to 9:30 p.m. at Key Elementary.

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