The Dane County Board approved a resolution just after midnight Friday to purchase a south Madison property with plans to convert it to a day resource center for the county’s homeless.
The decision capped off more than four-hours of public testimony — the bulk of which opposed the proposal — and supervisor debate on whether to purchase the parcel at 1409 Martin Street in the town of Madison or continue to hunt for a location closer to the downtown area.
County Executive Joe Parisi’s office first announced in early April that the county had struck a deal to secure the Martin Street property owned by the homeless resource group Porchlight Inc. for $330,000.
Plans for the facility include the addition of showers, laundry services, and storage, as well as meeting space to help those in need secure employment and housing. The center is also intended to be a daytime shelter for the homeless during the winter months.
The county budgeted $600,000 in 2013 for the purchase and renovation of a property to serve as a day resource center and has said the annual expected cost of operating such a facility for a full year is $300,000.
The reported capacity of the Martin Street facility, once up and running, will be 99.
In a memo sent prior to the county board’s May 15 meeting and vote on the matter, Parisi again urged supervisors to support the Martin Street purchase which he called “the culmination of years of diligent review.”
“Authorizing the acquisition of Martin Street, with protection through certain contingencies in the offer to purchase, is our smartest course of having a first of its kind day resource center open the next time the snow flies,” Parisi said in the letter.
“There is no perfect or easy answer,” said Sup. Dave de Felice of Madison, who called the resolution “one of the most difficult” supervisors have faced in his 10 years with the board.
The vote early Friday was 26-9 in favor of the deal.
One of the purchase’s most vocal opponents has been Sup. Heidi Wegleitner of Madison, who spearheaded the original effort to budget $600,000 for a new day shelter. She wants to see a new facility closer to downtown where much of the local homeless population congregates.
At a May 1 board meeting, Wegleitner said she was working on a resolution to spend $4 million to secure such a site. And on May 12 she issued a release detailing the difficulty she experienced walking with her infant son from the Salvation Army Family Shelter on E. Washington Avenue to the Martin Street facility.
“I still think we should go big,” Wegleitner told board colleagues before the vote.
Sup. Kyle Richmond of Madison, whose district includes the Martin Street property, offered a motion Thursday to delay a decision until the board’s June 12 meeting to allow for more dialogue with his constituents and county officials.
“My questions haven't been answered,” Richmond said.
Richmond’s pitch to re-refer the purchase agreement resolution, though, was defeated 21-14.
Roughly two dozen members of the public who spoke Thursday expressed opposition, including multiple representatives with the Arboretum Neighborhood Association.
One man said he and some Martin Street neighbors are “extremely nervous about this,” and said some are considering the acquisition of carry-and-conceal permits due to safety concerns.
“I think that you guys need to re-evaluate this and find a better place,” he continued.
Three members of the public spoke in favor of the Martin Street property, including Jonathan Grieser of Grace Episcopal Church, whose downtown location serves the homeless as an overnight shelter.
Grieser acknowledged that a downtown location would be ideal, but said such a facility is not going to “miraculously rise out of Lake Monona” and supervisors should back Martin Street.
The county hopes to begin remodeling the Martin Street building later this summer with plans to open it in November.