City tries to block lockers, unfairly burdening Mennonite Church

July 17, 2018 — The Mennonite Church began considering lockers more than a year ago, after City staff asked them if they would be willing to consider hosting a pilot outdoor locker program. The Church has a strong record of faith-driven efforts to help their homeless neighbors, and after seriously considering the practical details and the needs existing in our community, they agreed to host approximately 20 extended-hour storage lockers for people experiencing homelessness in Fort Collins. While their faith in their mission appears undaunted, their faith in the good conduct of the City has surely been severely tested.

First, City staff promised funding, and even signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to these terms. Then the City Manager’s office said that the MOU was invalid and a City Council vote would be required to secure funding. Although City Council eventually voted against funding the lockers, City staff wrote in a memo: “[I]t is important to understand that this proposal can still move forward without City funding. Lockers are allowed in this zone district if FCMF finds the funding elsewhere.”

The Church found the funding elsewhere, and by April 2018, was ready to move forward. Suddenly, City staff contacted them with a new set of requirements, demanding that the Church file a Minor Amendment Application with the planning & zoning department. When the Church complied, Planning and Zoning staff immediately recommended approval, making it clear that there was no basis in law for denying the application. Then the City Manager’s office stepped in again. Following a series of private meetings among City staff, a new report was issued, recommending approval only if the Church is forced to accept conditions that will, in practice, make it impossible for them to operate a successful locker program.

Even the City Attorney has expressed concern about unfair treatment, cautioning the City Manager’s office in an email: “[B]ecause the special discussions amongst staff could be used as a basis for arguing that we are treating the Church less favorably than other applicants based on the Church’s religious practices (ministering to the homeless), we need to take special care in how we communicate about it.” By accidentally sharing her email with church leaders, the City Attorney made her concerns known more widely than she intended, but the unfair treatment of this small Church has been clear for a long time.

Right now, there are thirteen lockers standing empty at the Mennonite Church. These lockers could already be storing the possessions of thirteen people – thirteen people who could be relieved of their heavy burdens as they work, travel, and live in our community. If the City is allowed to get away with singling out a small church for unfair treatment simply because the Church wants to help the homeless, what kind of community are we going to become?

Come to City Hall (300 Laporte Ave) at 6pm on Thursday, July 19, to speak up for fair treatment & allowing compassion space to thrive in our community. If you cannot come to City Hall, please share your support for lockers and fair treatment with Planning & Zoning staff: cfrickey@fcgov.com

Update, July 19, 2018 — The Planning and Zoning Board approved the lockers project at the FCMF, without restrictions. However, a group has appealed the decision. City Council will hear the appeal on October 2, 2018.