Porterdale signs consent order to end litigation

PORTERDALE - A long-running dispute between the city and the operator of a homeless shelter over improper zoning for the shelter may be near an end. The City Council has authorized Mayor Bobby Hamby and City Attorney Tim Chambers to enter a settlement agreement resolving the litigation. The vote came Tuesday, May 13, at a special called meeting of the council.

The city's lawsuit sought an injunction against the shelter operations conducted by Rainbow Community Center Inc. and Rainbow Covenant Ministries Inc. The Rev. Clara Lett, owner and operator of Rainbow ministries and center, said Thursday she had not yet seen the settlement offer.

City officials contacted Thursday said they would rather not comment on the settlement agreement until it has been signed by both parties. Councilman Robert Foxworth did say he hopes the settlement agreement has positive results.

"I hope Clara Lett prospers from it, and I wish her well," Foxworth said.

The settlement agreement follows the Covington City Council's 2007 purchase of three buildings at 7153 Turner Lake Circle for use as a homeless shelter to be run by Rainbow Covenant Ministries, as well as the Newton County Community Food Pantry and FaithWorks, a local nonprofit organization that assists low-income residents with rent and utility payments. Covington also received a grant for $100,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for repairs to the buildings.

The settlement agreement signed Tuesday by Hamby is contingent upon Rainbow's relocation to the Covington facility. The agreement acknowledges that Rainbow cannot relocate its shelter operations until the current tenant at 7153 Turner Lake Circle, McIntosh Trail Early Childhood Development Council Inc., completes its new building, which is under construction on Turner Lake Circle.

Lett said Thursday she anticipates the construction will be completed by fall.

In the settlement agreement, Porterdale stipulates that Rainbow will agree to cease its housing operations within the city limits of Porterdale, and specifically at 9 Hemlock St., on or before 30 days from the date a certificate of occupancy is issued for the Covington facility. Porterdale also offers to assist Rainbow in its application with the state Department of Community Affairs for a grant funding housing operations in Porterdale until Rainbow relocates to Covington. However, that offer is not to be construed as admission that the housing operations are legal if further litigation is required to enforce the settlement agreement.

Porterdale also asks that Rainbow agree not to apply for rezoning of any property in Porterdale for use as a homeless shelter or housing operation for five years from the date of the agreement.

Porterdale's lawsuit, filed in Newton County Superior Court on Aug. 7, 2003, alleged that Lett operated a homeless shelter at 9 Hemlock St., an area zoned for single-family dwellings, beginning in February 2001. The lawsuit claimed that Rainbow violated the city's existing zoning ordinance when the shelter first opened and the zoning ordinance adopted by the city in March 2001 because it was a non-conforming use in R-2 zoning, it provided temporary housing to numerous individuals not constituting a family and it operated a boarding house. The lawsuit also claims that Rainbow expanded its operations to 40 Ivy St. and 1 Hemlock St., and those operations were also in violation of the zoning ordinance.

The lawsuit sought an injunction against Rainbow's shelter operations, citing noise complaints by neighbors, increased pedestrian and automobile traffic, public urination and drinking by shelter occupants, and trespassing by unsupervised children of shelter residents, among others.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com.