Residents raise concerns about Safe Embrace Special Use Permit request
RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Safe Embrace (SE) has until August 15 to get a Special Use Permit (SUP), after a judge signed a cease and desist order requiring the nonprofit’s safe house to close last month.
The order was granted after homeowners filed a lawsuit in 2019 claiming the City of Sparks improperly followed procedures when it approved the shelter’s business license, allowing it to expand.
On Monday afternoon, Christy Corporation--hired by SE to write the SUP application and make sure it is in compliance--hosted a virtual neighborhood meeting to give the community an opportunity to review the proposed project, ask questions and provide feedback prior to submittal.
“The Special Use Permit is to allow the establishment of a 25-bed Group Care Facility within the Low-Density Suburban Zone,” said Lisa Nash, land use planner at Christy Corporation.
The request also includes possible modifications to standards for landscaping, screening, parking and paving, setbacks, noise and lighting, and interior space requirements.
“Safe Embrace wants to be a good neighbor,” said Nash during her presentation.
For an hour, consultants took heat from neighbors calling Washoe County (also included in the lawsuit) and the nonprofit untrustworthy.
“You guys have absolutely zero credibility,” said Adrian, a homeowner.
SE is the largest shelter for survivors of domestic violence in Northern Nevada. In an interview, Executive Director Afshan West said, although they’ve been fighting the lawsuit for a couple of years, she and her team found out last fall.
“None of the present personnel or the board members were here when this occurred,” she said.
However, former staff says otherwise.
“There were members of their board that were on the board when the license was issued and knew about the lawsuit from the beginning,” said a former employee in an email sent to KOLO8 News Now.
In the lawsuit documents, Sparks admits the property was wrongly classified as a ‘group home’--instead of a social assistance service--which suggests a small number of residents.
“I understand where the neighbors are coming from. However, where else do we go?” said West. “Not to mention we’ve been there since 2001, why now?”
In their petitions, plaintiffs mentioned concerns surrounding things like traffic and landscaping.
“They have done nothing, zero, in regard to the landscaping requirements, and the neighborhood meeting requirements,” said neighbor Alfred Knepper. “They have done nothing in three and a half years.”
During Monday’s meeting, neighbors also raised concerns about safety and noises, including women and children screaming.
“We’ve had shouting matches in front of our house, in the pitch dark, you know like, right around eight o’clock when it’s getting dark in the winter,” said neighbor Samantha Gonzalez. “We’ve seen police with their guns drawn pointed towards the house and you know, this was traumatic for our daughters.”
“They don’t even care about their animals. They let their animals bark for days on end without doing anything,” said another neighbor.
Last year, more than 4,500 bed nights were provided in the safe house. At the time of the cease and desist order, the shelter was at capacity.
“We’re very blessed that we have DVRC, we have the Nevada Coalition, we have our sister agencies, you know just in the Truckee Meadows, around Lake Tahoe that have stepped up to offer help to our clients,” said West.
According to Christy Corporation, SE will be upgrading its security system by adding cameras that can be monitored. They will work with the neighborhood on road maintenance, meeting all county landscape conditions as part of the SUP, and limiting the number of dogs to three at a time.
In her presentation, Nash also indicated the trash bins will be stored behind the solid fencing and that SE is requesting a waiver of security lighting from the county. The lighting will be muted.
The shelter says it is unaware of any issues about people being dropped off up the street and getting picked up after hiding in bushes.
Neighbors say they support SE’s mission but that the security cameras will only protect the shelter and its residents. They want the nonprofit to cease the illegal use of the inherited property and move to another area.
“If Safe Embrace and DVRC weren’t here, where would people go? Who will they call? It’s called a cycle for a reason. Unless there’s intervention that cycle continues, it goes on generationally, the cycle of abuse,” said West. “Our goal, our job, our mission is to break that cycle. We make our survivors conquerors.”
West adds, that she hopes the community they have always supported now does the same for them.
Christy Corporation will take feedback from the meeting and submit the application, which will then be reviewed by all the county departments.
Safe Embrace continues to operate, but following the court order, it has stopped taking new clients.
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