A local ministry that wants to continue running a men's rescue shelter in a quiet Tyler neighborhood will probably need to find another location.
The Planning and Zoning Commission declined Tuesday to support a zoning change for Denise Walker's Addict Ministries, saying the location is not appropriate for adult rehabilitative activities.
The decision can be appealed to the Tyler City Council.
Ms. Walker's home, 1016 Rusk St., has been operating as a type of transitional residence for men on parole from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and others leading troubled lives.
Ms. Walker said her ministry, which has a second location in Flint, aims to stabilize men plagued with societal issues such as homelessness and a criminal past by providing them with stable housing, job training and biblical guidance.
The area is zoned for single family homes; Ms. Walker was trying to get it changed to light commercial.
City officials said the ministry's objectives are admirable, but poorly located.
“This area is constructed for single families and it's located in a school zone for Peete Elementary School,” Plan Director Heather Dick said.
The school is at 1511 Bellwood.
Officials said they happened onto the ministry while investigating a code violation.
Ms. Walker was having an addition constructed without a permit, said Ms. Nick, adding. “There were eight parolees residing at the site.”
The city notified Ms. Walker in February that her ministry's current activities were illegal under current zoning and she had 30 days to make other arrangements, officials said.
Ms. Walker subsequently applied for necessary permits so Addict Ministries could operate legally and asked the plan commission Tuesday to support her vision.
“I never knew I was doing something in violation,” she said. “That's my house. Everyone there didn't have a place to go.”
She said her ministry has operated problem-free at the location for about two years, noting pedophiles and sex offenders are not allowed to stay there because it's too close to the school.
“Our heart is not to do the wrong thing, nothing was done maliciously,” she said. “We teach them (parolees) to obey the laws, they keep a low profile. They don't go outside the backyard. This is a place to be a disciple. … It's not about parole and parolees, it's about people.”
Commissioners acknowledged her efforts to do the right thing.
“I don't think anyone doubts the good will or the intentions,” Chairman David Hudson said. “The city of Tyler is aware of the homeless situation — perhaps there's another solution for dealing with them.”
Commissioner Donald Warren agreed.
“I think what you're doing is fabulous,” he said. “Personally, my problem is location, location, location. I just don't know if that's the right location for rehabilitating parolees. … I personally have a problem with it being in a residential neighborhood.”
Carey Nix, another commissioner, asked if parole authorities signed off on the location.
Ms. Nick said there apparently was some confusion about the address, and the parole authorities assumed it was lawful to house them there.
Some people spoke in support of Addict Ministries.
The Rev. Matthew Madlock, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, said Ms. Walker is his daughter and he believes in her mission.
“All she's trying to do is do the right thing, teaching them to live God-fearing lives,” he said. “No matter what you decide today, our mission will continue somewhere. We have a higher calling.”
Supporter Shelly Thomas said she and her husband own acreage outside Tyler and allow the men to practice a trade there.
“There's a plethora of people released from prison with no place to go,” Ms. Thomas said. “She saw the need and followed her heart. … What God has called her to do comes from the heart. It's her calling — we'll do what we have to do to stay.”
Updated Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 4:08 p.m. CDT