The Elkhorn City Council denied a request to establish a domestic violence shelter downtown over measurement and zoning details during a standing-room-only meeting Monday.
The council voted 4-2 against the plan from New Beginnings APFV to make the former medical building at 20 N. Church St. into the county’s only domestic violence shelter. Disappointed shelter supporters said such a facility is a necessity.
Council member Tim Shiroda made a motion to deny the application over questions he had about the parking and driveway length figures submitted by New Beginnings. Members Ron Dunwiddie, Karel Young and Tom Myrin also voted to deny the application.
Frank Boggs and Scott McClory voted against the motion to decline the project.
Shelter backers said next steps are not immediately clear, but they will discuss matters at a board meeting today.
“I believe personally that human lives are more important than property and parking spaces,” New Beginnings Executive Director Heidi Lloyd told a crowd of supporters outside City Hall. “But unfortunately, I was not the person who was allowed to vote today.”
Shiroda said he went to the location to get some measurements himself, adding that he didn’t see how they could fit nearly as many of the 27 parking spaces they needed to have. Explaining his math during the meeting, he questioned the figures New Beginnings submitted to the city.
He also said the driveway would not be big enough, giving the facility access problems.
Shiroda said he was a president of a rotary group that backed New Beginnings and even provided financial support for the group that supports survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.
In the last seven months, three homicides in Walworth County—no more than 5 miles apart—have a common denominator: domestic violence.
“Everybody probably in the room supports New Beginnings,” he said. “But it’s got to fit.”
New Beginnings Board President Janis Scharnott said she is “absolutely” confident in the figures provided in their architectural plans.
“I feel that they weren’t willing to look at the facts,” she said.
Myrin, another council member who voted against the project, said the zoning for the proposed facility wasn’t correct.
Before the vote, three people present shared their thoughts. Mayor Howie Reynolds then gave about 10 minutes for lawyers from each side to present their case.
The shelter has been hotly contested. Even those who opposed the plans for the shelter at the proposed site said they support putting a shelter somewhere else.
“We think it’s in the wrong place,” Elkhorn-based lawyer John Maier said. “And I feel badly. I have to say that to you. Quite honestly, my heart is heavy.”
The matter came to the council after the Elkhorn Plan Commission gave the proposal a neutral recommendation July 11. That meeting was also attended by many people.
In Walworth County, the last three suspected murders are instances of domestic violence—all only 5 miles and seven months apart.
“These are people who had successful careers and loving families,” Lloyd said. “And they’re simply gone. And they’re missed every single day.”
In the latest killing, a murder-suicide where Jenna Brovold’s ex-boyfriend killed her in the Darien home they lived in together, police reports show she did not feel safe staying at home the night of her death.
Newly released police reports provide more details about a murder-suicide in Darien, which was the third Walworth County domestic violence killing in seven months.
There is no mention in the reports that she was seeking a domestic violence shelter, but advocates of the project say abuse victims need a safe place to stay in emergencies.
Lloyd said after the meeting she is heartbroken for survivors of domestic violence, including one who spoke during Monday’s meeting.
“My son called 911 and saved my life … from a domestic violence incident,” the woman told the council, her voice breaking. “It was a struggle to find a place in town, to find a way to get out of the abuse and away from it.
“It’s time that Elkhorn step up and help the community and victims that are going through this.”
Elkhorn Police Chief Joel Christensen and Walworth County Sheriff Kurt Picknell signaled support for the downtown shelter. McClory, one of the two votes against the council’s decision to deny the application, works for the sheriff’s office.
Shelter plans called for four units for women and children with a capacity of about 12 people at a time. Emergency stays would have ranged from one night to several weeks based on need.
Scharnott, the New Beginnings board president, said the group is not sure what the next steps are for the proposal, which was three years in the making.
As she walked away from Monday’s meeting, however, she said, “We’re not done.”
This story was updated at 8:38 p.m. Monday.