The Case Mansion in Auburn has had a variety of uses in its nearly 80 year history. It was an Army training center during World War II, a monastery and a mental health facility. Now, it's home to a group that provides affordable housing to veterans, as well as serving other uses. Our Sarah Blazonis tells us why that could be about to change.
AUBURN, N.Y. -- Coming home wasn't easy for Thomas Hurst, 27. After serving in the Army and being deployed to Afghanistan and Haiti, he faced stresses he didn't expect as a civilian.
"Just like most veterans when they get back, they think they have a plan, but sometimes that plan doesn't always work out and if you don't know where to go and you don't take the steps to get there, then you find yourself homeless real fast," said Hurst.
He says he was honorably discharged about two years ago.
Hurst says he was able to turn to Ministro Ministries when that happened to him. The group provides affordable housing and counseling services to veterans and others in the community at the Case Mansion, some of whom suffer from substance abuse and mental health problems.
"There is a need and we can't keep turning our heads because we have nice homes to live in. We have to care about the people that are less fortunate," said Ministro Ministries Founder Michael Henty.
Henty says the Auburn Zoning Board of Appeals recently rejected Ministro's use variance for the mansion. The group was given 30 days to appeal or it would have to stop services. Henty says complaints from neighbors are part of the problem.
"They say we're disturbing the neighborhood, but I think that they're just disturbed that we're here," he said.
"We're not anti-veteran, we're not anti-homeless," said South Street resident Richard Stankus. "But when someone tells you he's going to do something and he does just the opposite, then the truth does matter."
Stankus says he's part of a group of about 55 neighbors who signed a petition against the use variance. He says while Ministro touts its veterans services, that's a small part of what the group offers at the mansion. Stankus says wedding receptions and other events held there have created disturbances.
"People partying and urinating in bushes and climbing on roofs and up and down stairwells and whatnot literally all hours of the night," said Stankus.
Another concern: That the variance would zone the mansion for commercial use.
"If he left the property, that property would remain zoned commercially and anyone could then come in and utilize that property at a future date in any commercial venture they wanted to," Stankus said.
But despite some opposition, Henty says he's also gotten a lot of public support. Community members donated $250,000 to remodel the rundown mansion when the group moved in. And Hurst is one of those who says it helped him turn his life around.
"Right now, this is the only place for me. I don't have any other place to go," said Hurst.
Mansion residents and neighbors now wait to see what's next and whether Ministro will appeal the latest decision.
The deadline for Ministro Ministries to appeal the board's decision is October 23, now just two weeks away. Michael Henty says if the group chooses not to appeal, there may be another option available to allow the group continue its work. If it is not allowed a use variance, those who live there will be forced to find other places to stay.