Plans to open a homeless shelter near Five Points in Belltown are again in doubt after Delaware Supreme Court dismissed an Immanuel Shelter Inc. appeal on technical grounds.
The appeal of a lower court ruling was rejected because it was not filed within a 30-day deadline.
“Immanuel Shelter's failure to file its notice of appeal within 30 days of the March 28 memorandum opinion leaves this court without jurisdiction to consider an appeal,” wrote Justice Collins J. Steitz Jr., July 24.
Court action has not stopped Rehoboth Beach-based Immanuel Shelter from purchasing the church property. It was officially blessed during a May 19 service.
Janet Idema, president of the board of directors, said the board will explore other options for the historic property including possibly opening a new church at the location.
The appeal was filed June 4, which was 68 days following a Superior Court decision overturning a Sussex County Board of Adjustment decision that would have allowed a homeless shelter at the site of John Wesley United Methodist Church in Belltown near Five Points.
A year earlier on June 19, 2017, the board voted 3-1 to grant a special-use exception to Immanuel Shelter for a homeless shelter. The controversial vote came after lengthy testimony by area residents opposed to a shelter.
After the board approved the shelter, Lewes residents John Hartigan, Kenneth Bartholomew and John Zawislak filed lawsuits against the board, Immanuel Shelter Inc. and Faith United Methodist Church Inc.
The board of adjustment decision was reversed when the court found that county code does not provide for a homeless shelter as a permitted use in agricultural-residential, AR-1, zoning. The church was forced to file an application for a tourist home, which is a dwelling having no more than six rental rooms with no cooking facilities in guest rooms. Code also includes bed and breakfasts, rooming houses, boarding houses and lodging houses in the definition of a tourist home.
The court ruled that a tourist home is an arrangement where a resident would pay rent. “The residents of the shelter will not be required to pay rent in order to live at the shelter,” according to the Superior Court ruling.
The 41,000-square-foot church, built in 1946 with roots back to 1873, closed in 2007 and the congregation merged with two other churches into Faith United Methodist Church in Rehoboth Beach.
Immanuel Shelter – started in 2010 – operates a Code Purple shelter for the homeless in Rehoboth Beach from Dec. 8 to April 1. The nonprofit organization is working to establish a year-round shelter in the Rehoboth Beach area.