Immanuel Shelter Purchasing Lewes Property - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Immanuel Shelter Purchasing Lewes Property Despite Superior Court Decision

Posted: Apr 12, 2018 3:00 PM Updated:

LEWES, Del.- The Immanuel Shelter plans to purchase a historic Belltown church despite a judge ruling the group cannot operate a homeless shelter there as originally intended.

Immanuel Shelter Board President Janet Idema says the purchase should be complete in the next few weeks. As a Superior Court judge reversed a Board of Adjustment decision allowing a special use exception for the new homeless shelter, Idema says they're exploring other options for the space.

"It could definitely be like a central fellowship place," she says. "Or a place where we could base our operations from for working with the community."

Idema says they may even use the building for a new church. But Immanuel Shelter is also looking at potentially appealing the ruling against them, taking it to the Delaware Supreme Court. In the ruling, Judge Richard Stokes said the Board of Adjustment's decision in favor of the shelter was invalid because the shelter would not fit under Sussex County Code's definition of a "tourist home" --one of the arguments for the exception's legality--because the residents would not pay rent.

"As a result, the shelter does not fall into one of the permitted categories," Judge Stokes writes. "Section 115-15 clearly states that uses not specifically listed are prohibited [...] Thus the homeless shelter must be denied a special use exception at this time."

Court documents state that those against the project feared the shelter would increase panhandling near housing development entrances, as well as reduce property values. Others worried for the homeless' safety as the church sits on a busy road. WBOC spoke off camera with one of the men who filed the original lawsuit. He said he had no problem with Immanuel Shelter purchasing the property, but if they appeal and intend to use it as a new homeless shelter, he said he hoped Judge Stokes' ruling would be upheld.

Those with Immanuel say expanding to Lewes in any capacity would help those who need it most. 

"This is service before self," says Interim Executive Director Meghan Foxx. "We put others before ourselves. We are invested in the future of Immanuel and what we can do to help fellow members of our community."

If Immanuel appeals the Superior Court ruling, they must do so within thirty days of the opinion. That ruling was handed down March 28th.

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