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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Zoning, safety issues cloud refuge offer for storm victims

Paul Font is hard at work building housing for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Paul Font is hard at work building housing for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
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ARCHBOLD, Ohio - Issues of zoning and security surfaced last night during a communitywide meeting near here to discuss disaster relief efforts, including the creation of temporary housing for hurricane evacuees from Biloxi, Miss.

Efforts are under way to convert a former school building in Ridgeville Corners, Ohio, seven miles south of Archbold, where 40 to 50 people from Boloxi, left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, could live until they find permanent housing.

However, last night some local residents questioned whether zoning could be arranged to allow for that temporary housing to open its doors.

Ed Nagel, zoning inspector for Ridgeville Township, said Christ Community Church, which is turning its second floor - currently unused - into housing, has a conditional-use permit that does not allow for such purposes.

But after the meeting, Mr. Nagel said it would be possible to amend the permit.

The former school in Ridgeville Corners is being converted into temporary shelter for nearly 50 people from storm-ravaged Biloxi, Miss . The former school in Ridgeville Corners is being converted into temporary shelter for nearly 50 people from storm-ravaged Biloxi, Miss .
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However, Ridgeville Township Trustee Larry Wendt said that township officials needed time to work through several issues raised last night, including how long displaced residents might stay and what impact they would have on local law enforcement and fire services.

Archbold Area School Superintendent Ken Cline said the school district was ready and willing to take in displaced children.

"We'll bring them in, get them going. They need to be in school," Mr. Cline said.

Laure Bickel, who lives across the street from the church, said she is concerned about the safety of local residents in the Henry County community.

"If these people are the salt of the earth, if these people share our values, we are all about helping them," Ms. Bickel said. "But we want to keep our town safe."

Some of the 150 area residents in attendance also questioned why the church would try to reinvent the wheel when Rural Opportunities migrant rest center, also in Henry County near Liberty Center, Ohio, is willing to accept nearly 200 evacuees.

But Don Barnett, the church's pastor, said he cannot defer his God-given mandate to help to any governmental agency.

"I know others share the same heart that I do," Mr. Barnett said.



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