by Jeremy Morrison
The weather was ornery Thursday morning out at Satoshi Forest, and Mike Kimberl had yet to hear the recently handed down ruling from the Escambia County Environmental Special magistrate.
“We’re a little rained out, but we’re alright,” he said, before being told the ruling was in.
Kimberl, who in his position with homeless outreach organization Sean’s Outpost oversees a piece of property currently being used as a camping site for area homeless people, pulled up an email from his attorney. Skimming the bottom lines, he relayed that the lawyer feels there’s “still a path forward.”
For the past couple of years, Sean’s Outpost has haggled with Escambia County over the use of the property at 1999 Massachusetts Ave. — the organization purchased the property two years ago to use as a site for the homeless. Currently, it is both involved in a review process for a development permit and also facing a temporary-structure code violation for the use of tents on the property.
The code violation is what Special Magistrate Robert Beasley issued a ruling on Wednesday, Aug. 10. The magistrate found that Sean’s Outpost indeed has temporary structures for more than a 14-day period per year — there are tents out year round — and is therefore in violation of county code forbidding such.
The ruling stipulates that Sean’s Outpost should continue working with the county’s Development Review Committee in an effort to address its concerns, with the end goal being securing a permit that allows for continued use of the property as a grounds for the area’s homeless to stay. But, the magistrate also noted that it was unlikely the DRC’s lists of requests — such as the building of a permanent road and stormwater retention pond — could be accomplished; Kimberl has said previously such property upgrades would prove financially impossible.
After reviewing the ruling Thursday morning, Kimberl said he was “confused” about how the whole thing might play out.
“That is the beautiful question,” he said. “This is, I guess, bureaucracy at it’s finest.”
Kimberl said that he is currently trying to get together items requested by county staff, such as a list of the property’s rules, and an operational procedure manual, in an effort to satisfy the DRC. But he said he also feels that participating in the development review process equates to the county giving the organization “a difficult time,” and doing so “without any intention of giving us permission to do what we’ve been doing.”
“It seems like they just want us to give them as much information as possible, so they can review it and then use it against us in one form or another,” Kimberl said, referring to an earlier incident where the revelation of on-site portable toilets lead to additional upgrade requests.
The Sean’s Outpost homeless advocate said he intended to “work out as many issues as possible” within the development review process, but then planned to ultimately appeal the special magistrate’s ruling.
“I guess now I’ve gotta get off the phone and call the board of directors,” Kimberl said, referring to his fellow Sean’s Outpost board members. “We’ve gotta have a meeting about this.”
As it stands now, Sean’s Outpost has 90 days to respond to the comments of Escambia’s Development Review Committee. After that, fines of $20 per day commence. The homeless advocacy organization has also been ordered to pay the county $650 for the cost of the magistrate proceedings.
To read an earlier article on Satoshi Forest, see Waiting It Out In Satoshi Forest.
To read Special Magistrate Robert Beasley’s ruling, see Satoshi Magistrate Ruling, August 2016.