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PROVO PANEL SAYS NO TO SOUP KITCHEN

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The homeless will not eat their soup at an old church building in central Provo.

Instead, the homeless and low-income will continue to get meals at an old home three blocks from the church until a new site can be found for their soup kitchen. The house is too small and also is up for sale."Now is the time to take a breath, sit back and examine where we can find a location that is more suitable for them," Joaquin neighborhood spokesman John Smith said.

In a room packed with emotion-filled residents, the city Planning Commission voted 5-1 Wednesday night to deny the Utah County Food and Shelter Coalition's request for a conditional-use permit to operate a soup kitchen at 105 E. 100 North in a building once occupied by the Christian Science Church. Commission members said they voted against the request because parking at the church building is inadequate and they didn't like the coalition's proposal for increased parking.

"I just don't see a way to make that building work," Commissioner Dan Johnson said.

Currently, only street parking is available, and the coalition's proposal to replace the front lawn with parking received negative remarks from city parking engineers. Neighbors said the coalition would cause traffic congestion at the intersection of 100 East and 100 North.

"There's no parking for that building, and there never has been," said Jim Bryan, city zoning administrator.

The building is used as a 162-seat children's theater. It holds rehearsals in the day and performances at night, even though the theater has no operating permit. Because the building is mostly used at night, neighboring businesses allow the theater to use their parking. However, those same business owners would not allow a handful of coalition workers and patrons to use their parking. One business, Provo Bakery, threatened to move if the permit was granted and sponsored a petition with more than 300 signatures from people opposed to the coalition using the old church.

Brent Crane, executive director of the coalition, said parking should not be an issue because most patrons walk to the center and only a few volunteers are at the building at a time. If the current parking situation was adequate for past tenants, it should be adequate for the coalition, he said.

Neighborhood spokesmen also said loitering patrons and patrons eating meals on the premises of nearby businesses would create safety concerns. Because some patrons are alcoholics and drug users, neighbors said allowing the coalition to operate out of the church would turn the neighborhood into another Pioneer Park, a park in Salt Lake City occupied by transients and drug dealers.

"To put a facility like this in a neighborhood that is so family-oriented is to create a situation that will eventually end in tragedy," neighbor Steve Hales said.

However, Provo police reports indicate fewer calls are received from the area where the coalition is currently located than most parts of the city. Crane said coalition patrons are labeled as dangerous because they look different and most are homeless.

"To take isolated incidents and attach them to the homeless population is inappropriate," Crane said.

The majority of the coalition's patrons already use services at the Social Services building and Community Action Center, which are farther into the neighborhood. Crane said the availability of nearby services is one reason the coalition wants to move into the old church building.

"If we put them off in Timbuktu, we're sending them the wrong message," he said.

In denying Crane's request, neighbors and commission members promised to help the coalition look for another site. Soup kitchens are currently a permitted use only in the heavy commercial zone.

"I think we need to very quickly identify some place that will work for you," Commissioner Scott Ward told Crane.

Later in the meeting, however, the commission voted to recommend that the City Council amend the heavy commercial zone to no longer allow soup kitchens as a permitted use. The commission directed city staff to identify areas of the city where soup kitchens would be appropriate.