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New Beginnings APFV wants to open a domestic violence shelter at 20 N. Church St. in Elkhorn.

ELKHORN

The Elkhorn City Council reversed itself Monday and allowed what is planned to be Walworth County’s first and only shelter for victims of domestic violence.

The council voted 4-2 to reverse its decision of last August, when it denied the request for a conditional-use permit to allow the shelter at 20 N. Church St.

Opposing the permit were Karel Young and Tom Myrin.

Suzi Schoenhoft, executive director of New Beginnings APFV, said she could not speculate on when the shelter would be up and running.

“Nothing will happen overnight, that’s for sure,” Schoenhoft said. “It’s going to take a lot of planning and fundraising.”

“We’re just thrilled they did the right thing, not just for New Beginnings but for the community,” Schoenhoft said, adding that her group’s clients currently must travel 30 to 50 miles to find a shelter, and often those shelters are full.

The shelter likely will occupy the former Aurora medical building, which Aurora donated to the group, Schoenhoft said.

The motion included two conditions: that the parking lot be limited to the 27 spaces that were part of the group’s original proposal and that New Beginnings strike a deal with a neighbor to the south for use of a shared driveway.

Schoenhoft said the conditions sound reasonable and she didn’t think there would be problems complying with them.

New Beginnings had appealed the council’s earlier decision to the county court, and Judge Daniel Johnson in April ordered the council to reconsider.

The public was allowed to hear the meeting from Matheson Memorial Library, where the sound and visual quality was low and only three council members could be seen on the screen.

An attorney who advises the council on this case said the judge’s ruling requires council members to make a decision based on the lengthy record of documents and testimony to the council leading up to its first decision, and members must demonstrate that they were making the decision based on reasoning and not arbitrarily.

Young said she is not opposed to a women’s shelter, but she opposes one at the proposed location.

She said she had received many calls and emails from people supporting the shelter, most of them from outside Elkhorn and many outside the county.

“It is my district, and I understand their (residents’) concerns, and they are all my neighbors and friends, and no way would I want to put any of them in harm’s way,” Young said.

Several council members who could not be identified spoke in favor of the shelter.

Alderman Scott McClory noted that both the police chief and county sheriff had written in support of the shelter, and a Department of Corrections spokeswoman had spoken in favor.

Schoenhoft said New Beginnings has already canceled two annual fundraisers this summer and plans a virtual fundraiser to pick up the slack. She said a fundraiser is scheduled for October, but it’s impossible to tell whether the COVID-19 situation might require another cancellation.

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