Second reading set for proposed Sturgis Extreme Weather Center ordinance

Pictured is one of the rooms that would provide shelter at the St. Joseph Community Co-Op, and a set of bunk beds that have been assembled, with more to come. (Beca Welty | Watershed Voice)

The Sturgis City Commission will hold a second reading for the Extreme Weather Center (EWC) on Wednesday evening during a regularly scheduled meeting. For eight months a local Sturgis group has worked to organize and assemble a location for individuals in need during extreme temperatures, and have faced challenges with zoning, building, and fire codes. 

An EWC is defined in the draft ordinance language presented to the commission as a building that provides a location on a temporary basis for individuals during extreme temperatures, which does not include any form of housing. The EWC would be listed as a special land use in various zoning districts, and individuals or groups looking to develop a property with this use would be required to get approval of the planning commission, as well as public notice. 

The following are listed as requirements that will be required from applicants for a special land use:

  • The building must comply with building codes, fire codes, and all other state, county, or local laws and ordinances.
  • A floor plan of the building and space to be utilized for the center must be provided.
  • An operations/management plan must be provided.
  • A site plan showing parking for volunteers and people utilizing the center must be provided.

An annual renewal be required for the special land use permit, and each year it will need to be renewed by the applicant. The planning commission will review and approve the renewal requests and, as part of the request, the applicant will have the opportunity to present specific conditions for when they would like to open and close their EWC. For example, the applicant could choose to open the EWC under extreme heat or extreme cold temperatures. 

As per the amendments being presented, the EWC will be placed as a special land use in the following zoning districts: Residential-1 (R-1), Residential-2 (R-2), Residential-3 (R-3), Residential-4 (R-4), Business Office Service (B-OS), Central Business (B-C), Business Highway 1 (B-H 1), Business Highway 2 (B-H 2), Business Neighborhood (B-N), and Manufacturing (M) districts.

The EWC was conceptualized on December 23, 2022 when the state was blanketed by a blizzard and fighting extremely low temperatures. Director of Sturgis’ St. Joseph Community Co-Op Krysti Boughton saw an urgent need for temporary shelter in the community that night during the storm, and opened the basement floor of the Co-Op for that purpose. Boughton’s vision was to offer this type of resource for the unhoused community, but was met with several hurdles as the Co-Op (located at 307 W. Chicago Rd.) does not have the proper zoning in place to meet necessary building code requirements for a warming center.

For the past eight months, Boughton and EWC board members have attended Sturgis City Commission meetings, as well as met with City staff to further progress on the center before the cold season begins. For the location to be eligible for use as a warming center, City Attorney T.J. Reed advised the board members undergo and obtain a code evaluation by a registered design profession to determine what code sections are required, and what improvements or changes would be needed to bring the structure into compliance for such intended use. With the location meeting applicable code requirements, the EWC board was then able to request a special exemption use permit from the planning commission, as well as a change to the property. 

The second reading for the EWC will take place Wednesday, September 13 at 6 p.m. in Wiesloch Raum in Sturgis City Hall (130 N. Nottawa St.).

Beca Welty is a staff writer and columnist for Watershed Voice.