West downtown business owners say they may sue the city for the concentration of transient facilities in their area, which they charge is contrary to the city's own master plan.
Business people say the number of transients - drawn by St. Vincent De Paul's soup kitchen and Salvation Army facilities, as well as the city's homeless shelter scheduled to open this fall - have decreased their property values by as much as 50 percent and threatened the safety of employees and customers. Don Dalton, an attorney representing six businesses, said the group has claims totaling $50 million."We believe the city has prompted and fostered this overconcentration, and has created a nuisance," Dalton said. "The opening of the new homeless center just perpetuates the situation, and we want something done about it."
The timing of the lawsuit threat is especially ironic. Mayor Palmer DePaulis' colleagues, mayors from cities across the country, praised the progressive nature of the city's homeless effort by co-locating facilities, after a tour last week. DePaulis has formed an action committee of business people and homeless representatives in order to look at the neighborhood's problems.
City Attorney Roger Cutler said he has received the notice of claim, which allows the city 90 days to respond under the state Governmental Immunity Act.
"We're evaluating it now. I can't see that they've raised any issues they haven't raised before," he said.
Dalton represents Peter Henderson, of Rio Grande Cafe; Walter Plumb, representing Rio Grande Associates; Salt Lake Stamp Co.; Cannon Family Partnership, Josh Associates; R. Neil McDonald; and Richard M. Thomas, of Thomas Electric Co.
Dalton said the west downtown area, which is a historically rich district, has been forced to take on a disproportionate burden of providing for the homeless population.
"Rather than facing the problem and doing something about it, they (city officials) are just continuing the situation and increasing services in the area. They are acting contrary to their stated purpose and objective, which is to develop and promote the social well-being and economic health of the west downtown area."
City officials say they did select an old warehouse for the homeless shelter, at 210 S. Rio Grande, but didn't control the sites for other agencies' facilities, which were allowable as they fit into the city's existing zoning.