River City Vineyard intends to keep its homeless shelter open despite challenges from city

George Esser annonces withdrawl of rezoning appeal, intention to keep homeless shelter open in face of challengesRiver City Vineyard announced Tuesday that it's giving up its appeal with the Ontario Municipal Board, but says the fight to keep the homeless shelter open is far from over.

The church pastor George Esser said in a statement today that his church was withdrawing its appeal of a city council decision to deny permanent rezoning for the Harbour Inn on Mitton Street.

Esser was adamant in his statement that the church will continue to provide shelter to homeless people despite the city's ruling and added that they have the religious right to keep it open under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sarnia Council voted 6-2 to deny rezoning for the shelter in October, after a neighbourhood petition with 80 signatures wanted it closed.

The move on the part of River City came as a surprise to the city which expected to deal with the issue at a hearing this summer.

Mayor Mike Bradley feels all of the parties involved need to take a step back and allow for some time to figure out what happens next.

"City of Sarnia staff will seek legal advice on the issues raised by River City Vineyard in its brief and report back," said Bradley adding, "We want to keep the temperature down on this debate."

Bradley said the practice of the City of Sarnia is that when a report being prepared no action is taken until Council and/or staff have dealt with the issues raised.

Proponents point out that the Harbour Inn is an important resource for people who otherwise don't have anywhere else to sleep.

Esser was quoted saying that he isn’t sure what to expect from the city or from the neighborhood, but he’s ready to defend his shelter and his rights in court.

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