Tuesday night’s public meeting on Iron Gate’s proposal to move its soup kitchen and grocery pantry from downtown to the Pearl District went just as one might have expected: Iron Gate explained its position; skeptical opponents of the move peppered Iron Gate with questions; and that was that.
Then Blake Ewing showed up. Spoke up, is more accurate.
After listening for more than an hour, the loquacious city councilor finally answered the question he’s been asked a million times since the proposed move became public: How would he vote?
“I would vote probably to approve it, and mostly because I don’t think any of the arguments against it have been sufficient,” Ewing said.
Ewing, who represents the Pearl District on the City Council and owns a business there, has no vote in the matter. But he said he greeted news of the move with fear, as many others have.
“The unknown is a scary thing and homelessness is a scary thing,” Ewing said. “I hope we can just say it is OK to be scared of that. But I also hope that we are not ruled by our fears.”
Ultimately, he said, he believes the controversy is a clash between two well-intentioned groups – Pearl District property owners who want to see their neighborhood develop and advocates for a better home for Iron Gate.
“Sometimes things just bang into each other and that doesn’t mean that one is the bad thing banging into the good thing,” Ewing said. “Sometimes good things bang into each other.”
Tuesday’s meeting was held at the soup kitchen below Trinity Episcopal Church, 501 S. Cincinnati Ave. The meeting was organized by Iron Gate to respond to questions about the proposal.
Iron Gate has proposed building a 16,000-square-foot facility at 302 S. Peoria Ave. The building would have up to 61 parking spaces and be served by both public and private bus service.
The city’s Board of Adjustment was scheduled to vote last week on zoning changes needed for the project to move forward, but Iron Gate asked for a continuance to allow it to hold the public meeting.
Turnout was strong. Nearly every inch of the room, which holds about 300 people, was filled with people.
Iron Gate Executive Director Connie Cronley began the meeting by explaining that the nonprofit has seen a surge in clients since the economy hit bottom in 2008.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” she said.
Shane Saunders, Iron Gate board member and capital campaign co-chairman, acknowledged that the opposition to the proposed move has been stronger than he had anticipated.
“I did not expect this level of concern,” he said.
Iron Gate has been searching for a new site for about 18 month and looked at 27 sites, Saunders said
The Pearl District site makes sense because it is along a bus route, it has plenty of space to build on and fits Iron Gate’s geographical requirements, Saunders said.
“This one happened to check a lot of boxes,” he said.
The Board of Adjustment will hear Iron Gate’s application for special exceptions to the zoning code Sept. 8. The meeting is at 1 p.m. in City Council chambers of City Hall, Second Street and Cincinnati Ave.
Ewing, who spoke last, reminded the packed room that if Iron Gate had intended to keep the project under the radar, as some people have suggested, it could have simply rezoned the property to commercial.
A soup kitchen, he noted, is allowed by right in commercial districts.
“And then without any public hearing or conversation whatsoever, Iron Gate could have located there,” Ewing said.