By Heather Ruenz

Staff Writer

The Elkhorn Common Council has scheduled a special meeting to reconsider New Beginnings’ application for a conditional use permit to open expanded program offices and a small domestic violence shelter in a former medical building at 20 N. Church St. The building will be donated if the use is approved.

The reconsideration, set for 5:30 p.m., Monday, June 29, comes on the heels of Walworth County Circuit Court Judge Daniel Johnson vacating the Council’s decision to deny a conditional use permit for the proposed shelter.

In August, the Council voted 4-2 in favor of denying the conditional use permit, citing parking at the site and measurements of the driveway in New Beginnings’ proposal as concerns, adding that it didn’t believe the shelter fit the zoning designation.

New Beginnings filed a civil suit – a certiorari appeal according to Raymond Dall’Osto, the attorney representing New Beginnings – Oct. 23 to appeal the action of the council.

Pushed back by COVID-19 concerns, the oral argument and decision hearing was held April 29 via phone. Dall’Osto said Johnson ordered the Council’s decision vacated as he didn’t see that the City’s decision was made using substantial fact-based evidence within the “established record.”

The order from Johnson further states, in part, “The Court admonishes the Common Council not to gather evidence outside the record and not to allow any evidence outside the record to influence its decision.”

Dan O’Callaghan, the attorney representing the City of Elkhorn, respectfully declined to comment following the judge’s ruling because the matter was still pending.

Encouraging support

Late last week, Suzi Schoenhoft, New Beginnings’ executive director and former director Heidi Lloyd issued a press release encouraging supporters of New Beginnings to contact council members.

“Please write to elected city officials soon to ask them to vote in favor,” it stated, recommending those planning to reach out do so by Friday (today, June 26) to ensure the comments are received prior to the meeting.

According to New Beginnings staff, violence is on the rise.

“In grant year 2019 (they run Oct. 1 through Sept. 30), New Beginnings APFV helped 922 clients affected by domestic abuse, compared to 664 in 2018,” the release said.

Lack of parking was one of the concerns discussed by the council prior to denying the permit last fall. But by adjusting its parking plan to take out one extra handicapped space and add a regular space, New Beginnings can provide the requisite number of parking spaces.

“(This) is far more than will actually be used,” the release states, adding that many clients don’t have cars, particularly those who need shelter.

Schoenhoft and Lloyd pointed out that among the supporters of the proposal are Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen, Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell and the Elkhorn Area School District.

“(EASD) came out in favor of the plan, with its spokesperson saying this added resource would make a difference for children in crisis,” the release states.

They also reiterated the desire to have the shelter in an area that contains a mixture of residential, commercial, religious and government buildings, including the city library.

“This atmosphere would provide a positive environment for a family to feel part of the community rather than isolated and alone,” it states.

According to Dall’Osto, Johnson’s decision puts New Beginnings “back in the ballgame,” and he hopes a way forward can be found for New Beginnings in Elkhorn.

The Special City Council Meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, June 29. Meetings are currently being held via video conferencing for safety during the pandemic.

Members of the public interested in viewing or participating in the meeting should attend in the community room at Matheson Memorial Library, 101 N. Wisconsin St. Social distancing is expected to be recommended and enforced and masks are encouraged.



1 Comment

  1. Gretchen Deitz says:

    To Whom It May Concern,
    As a wife of a deacon at Calvary Community Church, I wanted to quickly give my plea and support for the New Beginnings Shelter in our community.
    My husband and I have become keenly aware of the need for a safe place for women who are homeless or are abused and homeless to go, especially for women with children who’ve become homeless. There are a surprising amount of single, abused, homeless or disabled women out on the streets in our communities who need a safe place to recover, get counseling and help them regain a new way of life.
    Please know that with many of these ladies are children who’ve also received abuse or negligence from their fathers who need a safe place with warm meals and people to show them love.
    Thank you for listening.

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