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New homeless shelter 03 (copy)

The men's cold weather shelter is proposed for the ground floor of this building on Southwest Second Street, but downtown business owners have objected to the location. 

A group of local business owners are prepared to invest $4 million in an 11-acre site on the north side of Corvallis as an alternative location for a homeless shelter being proposed for a downtown building at 545 SW Second St., according to Benton County Commissioner Anne Schuster.

Schuster, who has joined with downtown business and property owners in opposing the Second Street site, made the announcement Tuesday night at a public forum sponsored by the City Club of Corvallis and moderated by Steve Schultz, publisher of The Advocate weekly newspaper. Well over 100 people attended the event, filling the main meeting room at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library and spilling into the hallway.

Other speakers on the podium were Shawn Collins, project manager for the Housing Opportunities Action Council, or HOAC, an umbrella organization that is backing the Second Street site, and Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber, who co-chairs HOAC with Schuster.

The Benton County Board of Commissioners decided on June 14 to withhold $60,000 in funding for shelter operations at the Second Street site but said earlier Tuesday it would consider the site along with other alternative locations. The Corvallis City Council has budgeted $60,000 for shelter operations but has not yet allocated the funds.

The City Council plans to hear detailed proposals for potential locations on July 2, while the Board of Commissioners has scheduled a similar meeting for July 10.

So far, the only alternative location that has been publicly identified is the former Flomatcher building east of the Willamette River off Highway 34 on property owned by the city of Corvallis. The Flomatcher site has been championed by Catherine Mater, whose family firm has an interest in two buildings on the same block as the proposed Second Street shelter.

But the property is located in Linn County, and county officials have expressed strong opposition to siting a homeless shelter there. It’s also in a potential flood zone, and the building would require extensive upgrades to make it habitable.

Schuster said she was “not at liberty” to divulge the names of the people involved in the north Corvallis plan or the precise location of the property, but she said the plan calls for renovating an existing 4,200-square-foot building on the site to house the local men’s cold weather shelter this winter.

After that, a new building of 15,000 to 18,000 square feet would be constructed and leased to agencies offering services to the homeless, including the men’s shelter operator, Stone Soup and the Corvallis Daytime Drop-In Center.

Schuster said the site could be used for a permanent, year-round homeless shelter and would offer a whole suite of other services, including a pet area, garden space, a smoking section and health care, promising it would have “every possible wraparound service the agencies want.” She also said transitional housing could be built on the property at some point.

“The business community is willing to raise the dollars, manage the dollars and build the project,” she said.

But Traber expressed skepticism, noting that the proposal was short on details at this point.

“We’ve had a description of one alternative tonight that was eight bullet points, described abstractly,” he said. “I’d like to see a concrete proposal.”

Traber also pointed out that neither the city nor the county could tell the owners of the Second Street building who to rent to or the nonprofit organizations that serve the homeless that they can’t lease space in the Second Street building, which is zoned to allow those uses.

Collins said the Second Street site is the best alternative he has seen so far, noting that the building is in good shape, has a willing landlord and is centrally located.

“I think it has a lot of advantages, one of them being the downtown site,” he said.

Collins pointed out that the homeless community is already concentrated in the area to a large extent and argued that siting a shelter there would make it easier to address the livability concern expressed by many of the shelter’s opponents.

“One of the things it can bring to downtown is a presence, a service point, that can actually ameliorate a lot of the problems,” he said.

Schultz opened the floor to questions from the audience, which included a number of homeless people. Several speakers criticized Schuster and the business community for wanting to exclude the homeless from downtown, but Shuster pushed back.

“We’ve got a lot of community members who don’t want this shelter on Second Street, and we’re not listening to them,” she said. “We need to listen to everyone.”

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Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald