AUBURN — New tenants could soon move into the historic Case Mansion after the city Zoning Board of Appeals approved a request by Ministro Ministries to use the 81-year-old home as a veterans and homeless shelter, a youth center and a vocational culinary training center.
The board members carefully stipulated the allowed uses before the 5-2 vote, so the city residents in the audience could fully understand the vote.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on this looking at every aspect of what would happen and how it would happen,” said member Thomas Baroody, who voted in favor of the use variance. “There is no question that the support does not come from the local neighborhood.”
During a public forum during last month’s ZBA meeting, nearly a dozen residents from the neighborhood surrounding the 108 South St. mansion spoke in opposition to Ministro’s request.
Most contended that the increase in traffic and noise from the proposed activities would significantly alter the character of their neighborhood, while others attacked the use variance application from a legal standpoint, saying Ministro failed to show need for the new uses.
Zoning board member Scott Kilmer, who voted against granting the variance, noted a petition submitted to the board by concerned neighbors requesting the application be denied.
“What concerns me the most is the impact on the character of the neighborhood,” Kilmer said. “There’s no other housing of that type in this neighborhood, and this is a very broad use variance. It will definitely change the character of that neighborhood.”
ZBA chairman Edward Darrow explained his support of the variance by looking at the support from the community outside the immediate neighborhood.
“One thing that strikes me is the fact that there obviously isn’t neighborhood support, but it seems that the community as a whole wants this,” Darrow said. “Personally, I tend to look at what the neighbors are looking for, but when it comes to something of a magnitude like this, there’s such community support that we have to balance that as well.”
Since the early 70s, the Case Mansion was used as a home for the disabled called Unity House.
Auburn Corporation Counsel Andy Fusco said the previous use could not be carried over by Ministro Ministries because it was a special permit, which expired when Unity House moved to another location. By granting the use variance, the ZBA set up special uses for the Case Mansion that stay with the property.
After the vote, the neighbors in attendance quietly filed out of the gallery and stood in a tight group in City Hall’s entranceway, refusing comment on the decision.
Mike Henty, director of Ministro Ministries, said he was glad the board listened to the community as a whole when making their decision.
He said after getting permission by the city codes office, he plans to begin kicking off the programs allowed by the board.
Henty said that while he’s happy with the board’s decision, he expects further legal action from the neighbors.