Egg Harbor City zoning officials have allowed the Atlantic City Rescue Mission to reopen its satellite office at a new location after a lengthy legal battle closed the facility in 2010.
Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Bob Guerrieri said the city has leased the Lafeyette Firehouse on Cincinnati Avenue for the Rescue Mission’s housing assistance efforts. The firehouse is currently home to a nutrition center and senior programs, which will still operate, he said.
“The reason the city went to this location is because it’s more or less in a residential area, but it’s not as closely populated,” he said.
The mission had previously operated out of a former warehouse on Boston Avenue that was owned by its chief operating officer, Daniel Brown. That site will now strictly be used as a warehouse, without any interaction between the mission and clients, Guerrieri said.
Board member Faye Goble said the new lease allows the mission to provide assistance to those having trouble staying in their homes.
“If they do what they say they’re going to do, it’s OK,” she said of the limited operations.
Frank Fetterolf, another board member, said he opposed the rescue mission’s presence in Egg Harbor City at Tuesday’s Zoning Board meeting.
“I didn’t want it at all,” he said Wednesday. “It’s right in the middle of town. If you lived here, you wouldn’t want it either.”
The satellite office first opened in January 2010 to help Atlantic County residents who needed assistance with mortgage, rent and utility payments. But the mission pulled out of the former warehouse three months later amid opposition from neighbors and the city’s Zoning Board.
After the Zoning Board decided that the mission’s operations of the building didn’t constitute a permitted non-conforming use, Brown and the Rescue Mission filed a lawsuit in September 2010.
In a response to the suit, Board Solicitor Richard Carlucci cited testimony from one of the Rescue Mission’s residential neighbors, Angela Krukauskas, who said the office had increased loitering, noise and parking congestion in her neighborhood.
“The Rescue Mission has always done phenomenal work,” Krukauskas said Wednesday. “Boston Avenue just wasn’t the place for it.”
Last May, a Cape May County Superior Court judge ruled in the mission’s favor, reversing the board’s prior decision and stating the board’s factual findings were unclear.
Brown did not respond to requests for comment.
Rescue Mission Executive Director Bill Southrey, who was suspended from his duties last week, said the mission may not have the money or manpower to offer the same level of services it offered two years ago. Since the closure, he said, some of the federal housing assistance funding has been redirected to other projects.
“It’s been a long, arduous process,” he said of the legal battle.
But the satellite office would bring necessary services to a part of Atlantic County with few resources for the poor, Southrey said.
“The western end of the county really has no representation for services at all,” he said.
In his most recent discussions about the satellite office prior to his suspension, Southrey said the plan had been to offer counseling to families in need of housing and utility assistance, not the homeless.
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