Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hungry People Not Welcome On Main Street? (Letter to Editor, 3/19/11)

I was dismayed to learn that hungry people are not welcome on Main Street in St. Albans by some. I thought that those were just the kind of people we embraced in that zone – people hungry for seafood, pizza, Mediterranean fare, sandwiches, bagels, baked goods, chocolate, maple treats, organic food, and more … I’d guess that at breakfast, lunch, snack time, and dinner, 75% of the people on Main Street are hungry!

And yet, our City Manager and City Council wrote a letter against having Martha’s Kitchen move into vacant space on Main Street to serve hungry people? The Development Review Board followed the direction of that letter, even though it ran counter to all 18 voices who spoke at the DRB meeting -- all of whom spoke in favor of welcoming Martha’s Kitchen to join in feeding hungry people on Main Street.

My girls grew up in St. Albans and Martha’s Kitchen was an important part of their youth. They learned to cook and to give to those experiencing tough times through their service to Martha’s Kitchen. To us, it was a community center and a restaurant in the most beautiful sense of the words. My girls learned what it was like to be part of a vibrant community which actively cares for all of its people.

Now, the City Manager, the City Council, and the Development Review Board risk teaching all of us important lesson in politics. If left uncorrected, that lesson becomes “It doesn’t matter if you’re hungry on Main Street, it matters how much money you have for your meal.” There’s still time for them to change that lesson to “Even the best politicians can rethink positions and do what’s right.”

Here’s hoping Martha’s Kitchen will appeal the ruling and our leaders will welcome this amazing community asset to that vacant spot tucked away on Main Street. Let’s continue to have Main Street, St. Albans be a place where ALL hungry people are welcome.

Letter to the Editor of the St. Albans Messenger

From Jonathan Billings, St. Albans, Vermont


UPDATE: "City Planners - Soup Kitchens OK Downtown"

We have progress on this issue!!! -- The St. Albans City Planning Commission approved soup kitchens as a conditional use in downtown St. Albans! The ordinance change will now go before the City Council for two public hearings and final approval. If approved by the City Council, Martha's Kitchen, would be able to file for a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board (DRB). The DRB had previously rejected Martha's Kitchen's appliation to move to Main Street on the grounds that soup kitchens were not similar to any existing or conditional use, such as restaurants or community centers. In recommending that soup kitchens be allowed in downtown, City Planner Jim Tischler found the use "in it's operation, provides no significant difference from similar eating or non profit service estalishments. Clients arrive, partake, and leave in the same fashion as other similar uses." After a brief discussion, the Planning Board adopted Tishcler's recommendation. Nice work, Jim! Way to go, Planning Board. They've created the path for the City Council and the DRB to make this happen.


Kendra Gratton said...

Very well said, Jonathan. St. Albans should be proud to have you AND Martha's Kitchen clientele and staff walking their Main Street.

Smarten up and do what's right, St. A!!!!

Heather B-P said...

Well spoken, as ever!

Pam said...

Thanks, Jonathan, for reminding us how important it is to lead, and to think inclusively. You epitomize community-mindedness, knowing what neighborhoods of care can truly be.