Genesis House

The St. John’s Church convent, being leased to Genesis House, is the proposed home for the nonprofit’s women and families shelter in North Olean.

OLEAN — Genesis House officials got a bit of breathing room Thursday as the nonprofit seeks a seven-figure grant for its planned North Olean shelter.

The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a 12-month extension to the previously-issued use variance for the former St. John’s Church convent at 943 N. Union St., which Genesis House is leasing from the church for a planned nine-room women and families shelter.

In April, the board granted a use variance to the church for the site. However, the variance was only good for six months. If construction is not started by then, an extension is required or the variance ends.

Code enforcement officials noted that such renewals are not uncommon, with large projects with variances occasionally requiring extensions due to funding or regulatory issues.

“BQ Energy did the same on the solar fields,” said Kathleen Hewitt of the Fire, Building and Emergency Services Department.

Jon Placito, a staff attorney with Legal Assistance of Western New York who represents St. John’s and Genesis House in the matter, said word from the state on the grant is the biggest roadblock at this time.

“There is an application for a $1.4 million grant that will help with the cost,” Placito said, adding a decision on the grant is expected shortly — but after the deadline of the original variance.

In August, Genesis House officials told the Times Herald they were seeking state grant funding for the project, and would need site plans to clear the city’s planning board before moving ahead. An Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant ramp is needed. Officials also noted that due to the larger size of the new space, more staff would be required to meet the need.

“They’re basically in limbo at this point,” said ZBA member Otto Tertinek.

Genesis House officials plan to move the nonprofit’s shelter for women and families from South Barry Street to the former convent at the church. Residents at the shelter will be placed under the same restrictions in place on South Barry Street, including curfews and drug and alcohol abstention.

First seeking a religious exemption to the zoning law in 2018, the board voted 3-2 in favor, but because the seven-member panel’s quorum is four — despite then only having five members — the vote failed. Almost 100 people attended the Feb. 14 public hearing, with more than 30 offering testimony.

While the majority of the speakers were in favor, a number were opposed. A petition of more than 200 names was also submitted to the city in opposition.

The board voted 4-1, with one absent, in favor of a use variance in April.

In the last month, yellow signs declaring opposition have been put back in several yards near the church campus, most having been taken down after the April decision.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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