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Officials walk around the Flomatcher building in Linn County during a tour May 25. A group in Corvallis hopes to use the site as a temporary men's homeless shelter.

Linn County officials say a plan to temporarily place a Corvallis homeless shelter on land just east of the Willamette River faces virtually insurmountable hurdles with the county.

Corvallis engineer and downtown business owner Catherine Mater is working with a group of investors on a plan to construct a building that would house the men’s cold weather shelter, the Stone Soup meal service and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-in Center. She told the Gazette-Times on Wednesday that she had a “pathway forward” with Linn County on a proposal to locate the shelter at the old Flomatcher property for one year until the new facility is ready.

Not so, say Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker and county Planning Director Robert Wheeldon.

‘THERE IS IN MY OPINION NO PATH FORWARD!” wrote Tucker in an email.

“A homeless shelter is not an allowed use in any rural zoning district in Linn County,” Wheeldon said. “The use also does not meet the standards for a temporary use in the limited industrial zone.”

Flomatcher used to operate an electronics manufacturing plant on the acreage, which is owned by the city of Corvallis despite being in Linn County. Corvallis bought the land for potential use on Highway 34 bypass slip lanes.

Despite Friday's sharp comments from officials, Mater said she remains optimistic that she can make headway with Linn County.

“I am working up conditions for temporary approval for them to review,” Mater said, noting that she is aiming to ensure that the Corvallis Police Department and Corvallis Fire Department would provide service to the site as well as develop plans for transportation, on-site security and daily cleanup crews. “They have none of this in writing yet. Give me a few days … we will know by midweek whether it’s a go or a no-go.”

Wheeldon noted that the only path he could see would be for Mater to “plead her case before the Board of Commissioners” in an effort to win an exception. Wheeldon added that the land-use issue is an open-and-shut situation: The zoning does not allow social service uses in the area, regardless of whether the use is permanent or temporary. And with Tucker seemingly a firm no, Mater would have to convince both of the other Linn County commissioners, Roger Nyquist and John Lindsey, to grant the exemption.

Mater and her group originally hoped to permanently co-locate the three services at Flomatcher but decided that that plan was unworkable. Her current proposal calls for one year of the men's homeless shelter at Flomatcher, with Stone Soup and the drop-in center continuing to serve their clients at Corvallis churches.

Mater's efforts come in response to a proposal from the Corvallis Housing Opportunities Action Council (HOAC) to move the shelter, Stone Soup and the drop-in center to a building on Southwest Second Street. (The HOAC is charged with implementing Benton County's 10-year plan to address homelessness.) Mater and her group and others in the community oppose the Second Street location because of its potential impact on downtown business. 

The Benton County Board of Commissioners agreed, choosing not to contribute the $60,000 in county funds that HOAC was hoping to receive to help operate the shelter. The Corvallis City Council, meanwhile, authorized $60,000 for shelter services but has not allocated it while waiting to hear more from Mater and her group. The annual budget for the shelter is approximately $165,000.

Shawn Collins, project manager with the HOAC, said Friday he thinks that there is enough community support to raise funds privately but said "it wouldn't make good sense" to go forward without city of Corvallis and Benton County support.

Collins and Mater both plan to pitch their proposals to the Corvallis City Council at its July 2 meeting.

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Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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