As Objections to Supportive Housing Project Grow Louder, Solutions Become Harder to Find

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As we noted just last month, a group of parents with kids at the First Presbyterian Church Developmental Day School on St. Paul are upset that a permanent supportive housing project (PSH) for the chronically homeless may be going up next door to the school. They're especially concerned that parts of the 141-unit complex will overlook the school's playground, and they're not convinced that requiring background checks or putting smoked glass on the windows of the St. Paul building -- two things the developer, Hamilton Properties, has proposed to placate them -- will make their children safer.

"There is no guarantee that all sex offenders will be prohibited from living in this development," reads a flyer they've produced about the project. "The impact of this facility upon the quality and security of the School's children and employees is unknown, but it is easy to imagine the worst" (emphasis theirs).

"Our first and foremost priority is the safety of our kids," says Kristy Macktinger, who heads the group with her husband Bryan. They have three children at the school, ages 3, 2 and 5 months. "These are the most innocent of innocent children. They don't know about stranger danger yet." She says "definitely the majority" of the parents at the school oppose the project.

Macktinger made her remarks yesterday afternoon at a meeting with Farmers Market-area property owners. Last week, the angry parents partnered with the stakeholders who have long been upset about what they say is rampant crime, prostitution and inopportune public self-pleasuring at The Bridge.

Representatives from the two groups met in Jim and Leslie Ingendorf's building on Harwood. They're trying to band together to prevent any new supportive housing for the homeless being developed in or around the city-owned market. Their most immediate concern, the groups say, is preventing Hamilton Properties from being awarded tax credits from the state that will help fund the bulk of the St. Paul project.

"We haven't gotten a very good response from city council," says Macktinger. City officials, she insists, "acted like we were irrational."

Property manager Tanya Ragan, as you may remember, has been a vocal opponent of The Bridge for the better part of a year now. She says she sees the proposed St. Paul project as another threat to the "economic development of the neighborhood," as well as being a safety hazard. "We don't believe everyone in the homeless community is a bad apple," she said yesterday, perhaps for the benefit of the reporter in the room. "But it just takes one."

Another Farmers Market stakeholder, architect Craig Melde, says the St. Paul Apartments is "a reasonable project, but the wrong location." He'd like to see a PSH "in City Hall's backyard.")

As proof of their safety concerns, both Macktinger and Ragan mentioned an incident during which, they claim, an individual was living at The Bridge and was on a waiting list to be placed in supportive housing when it was discovered he was a sex offender and was wanted for assaulting a child. He'd been staying at he Bridge under an assumed name, they say.

"He could've been in that supportive housing facility," Ragan says. "He was two weeks from getting in. They just have no clue who's in that facility."

We emailed Bridge officials to ask about their claims. Mike Faenza, president and CEO of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance, says he's looking into them and will respond when he finds out more.

Ragan also repeats her claim that crime is a bigger problem in the area around The Bridge than in other parts of the city, although documents previously given to Unfair Park by police haven't borne this out.

"They're lying to you," says Jim Ingendorf.

After the meeting, I called Larry Hamilton to ask about how he'd like to resolve the situation with the parents opposing the St. Paul Project.

"We've never been afforded an opportunity to meet with them and respond to questions," he said. "We've asked for it. It's very disappointing."

Macktinger doesn't dispute that her group has declined to meet with Hamilton. "That's correct," she says. Well, kind of: "We agreed to sit down with him only with the city council people present. We told him that because it's our position that this is a bad location." They'd be "more than happy" to meet, she says, if Hamilton will reconsider moving the project.

Hamilton, meanwhile, says that the church's offer to buy the property from his company, or swap the land with another parcel they owned, was flimsy.

"The church approached us with a rather indefinite proposal to swap land," he says, "but the land that they proposed to swap they didn't own or control. They proposed to try to acquire some land from TXU. And that if they got the land, then they would be interested in swapping it. Of course, our proposal would have been negated. I wouldn't call it a bogus proposal, but it was so full of if's that it really wasn't anything that you could get your arms around...It wasn't a real bona fide offer."

The Farmers Market stakeholders and the parents group are both hoping to air their grievances in front of city council again before the council leaves for their July vacation. But time's running out: They break till August following Tuesday's "new member briefing" the day after the council's inauguration and vote on the gas drilling committee.

And where does the new mayor, the city's former homeless czar, figure into all this arguing? "He's gonna have his hands full," says Jim Ingendorf. Everybody can probably agree on that one.

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