Neighbors critical after meeting on SAY plans for Warrack Hospital

  • Jeannette Dothee, left, and Jillian Metz look through the abandoned rooms at the old Warrick Hospital while taking a tour with the Social Advocates for Youth on Wednesday, August 28, 2013. SAY proponents are hoping to use the space for housing homeless youth. (Conner Jay/The Press Democrat)

Bennett Valley residents critical of a plan to turn the former Warrack Hospital campus into housing for homeless young people decried as one-sided a Wednesday community meeting on the project hosted by city planning staff.

Many residents were frustrated that officials from Social Advocates for Youth were allowed to give a presentation about their plans for what they are calling the Dream Center, while neighbors with concerns about the project were not allowed the same opportunity to speak.

"You're silencing us as a group!" Connie VanGross yelled at city planner Noah Housh.

Housh explained at the beginning of the 6 p.m. meeting at Strawberry Elementary School that the forum was informational only, allowing the city to outline its application process for the project and SAY officials to describe the proposal.

He made clear that residents can send their written comments to city staff at any time and they will have the opportunity to give testimony at two future public hearings, before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

"We're essentially at the beginning of the process," Housh said.

City planners and SAY representatives were on hand at four separate stations to answer questions from the hundreds of people gathered at the standing-room-only meeting, many of them wearing yellow shirts reading "Say Yes to Dreams."

But that format of giving SAY officials a microphone and opportunity to explain the project without giving critics, many of them from a group called Community Unite, a comparable opportunity struck some as unfair.

"I feel like we're being shunted to four corners," said Brenda Chatelain who labeled the event as a "city-sponsored press conference for SAY."

Many residents crowded around Housh after the presentations, some angrily pointing fingers at him and accusing the city of bias in favor of the project. Several police officers were on hand for security, and Chief Tom Schwedhelm was there to answer questions.

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