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City board denies 1 exemption, grants another to controversial downtown shelter

New Life Evangelistic Center is located in downtown St. Louis.
File photo | Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
New Life Evangelistic Center, 1411 Locust St. in downtown St. Louis.

The Board of Building Appeals in St. Louis city board has unanimously voted to require a downtown homeless shelter to seek approval from its neighbors for a new occupancy permit.

The board also voted Thursday to allow New Life Evangelistic Center to continue operating next to a school.

New Life has been operating as a homeless shelter downtown for nearly 40 years, but it was forced to apply for a new permit last year after another city board ruled that the shelter was a detriment to the neighborhood.

During closing arguments Thursday, New Life attorney Todd Lubben said closing the shelter’s doors would put more homeless people on the streets, and that as a church “New Life has the right to be located wherever it wants.”

The shelter’s opponents said New Life has brought crime to the area. City attorney Michael Garvin also said “churches are required to comply with any city permitting process unless there’s a real good reason they shouldn’t have to.”

The Board of Building Appeals then unanimously voted to grant New Life one of its requested exemptions to applying for a new permit while denying the other.

Board member Paul DeHart seconded both motions, stating that because New Life was in the neighborhood before Confluence Academy it should be allowed to remain but neighbors deserve to weigh-in on New Life’s request for a new, larger occupancy permit.

“I think the people in the neighborhood need to have a voice so they can work together,” DeHart said. “That’s the reason for the plat petition, so that the neighborhood people and the organizations all work together.”

Plat and Petition is the name city ordinance gives for the requirement that a majority of the people who live or operate a business within 500 and a half feet approve a new occupancy permit.

The board’s decision is preliminary, with a final ruling expected in a few weeks.

After the vote, New Life Vice President Raymond Redlich said his organization will wait for the board’s final ruling before deciding what to do next.

“As I testified earlier, I feel that there is a bias towards us among some of the residents downtown, however it’s not monolithic and I know there are many residents downtown who are sympathetic towards us,” Redlich said.

Shelter founder Rev. Larry Rice has said he would appeal the board’s ruling in state or federal court if necessary.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.