By Andrea Flores

DENVER (CBS4/AP)– Five Park Hill residents filed a lawsuit against a safe outdoor space for Denver’s homeless at Park Hill United Methodist Church. The lawsuit, first reported by Westword, names the Colorado Village Collaborative, the City and County of Denver, Park Hill United Methodist Church, and lead pastor Nathan Adams as the defendants. The plaintiffs are Kurt Monigle, Dave Rodman, Jean Baptiste-Varnier, Justin Lovac and Blair Taylor.

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“I’m shocked, but not surprised,” said Park Hill resident, Justin Petaccio. “When it comes to change and diversity of types of people, there’s a contingent that doesn’t always welcome that as much as we’d like.”

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Colorado Village Collaborative responded to the lawsuit in a statement, saying in part: “Regardless of their intention, the plaintiffs have not deterred us. Instead, the plaintiffs have lit a fire underneath us. We’re here to ensure that the fire does not grow into an untamed flame that would burn our progress to the ground, but that sacred sort of fire that gather community together to be made safe, warm, and whole.”

Petaccio said he’s disappointed the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the project.

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“If I lived across the street, I’d understand that you’d be nervous and you’d be worried, and I get all of that, but it has to be across from someone’s house, and what makes your house the wrong house to have it?” Petaccio said.

The complaint filed Thursday in Denver District Court argues the site poses a danger to children, does not meet city requirements and “does not address the impact it will have on the neighborhood.”

The lawsuit claims the “low barrier” outdoor shelter doesn’t require screening for drug use, sex offenders, or alcohol abuse. But a Colorado Village Collaborative virtual meeting last month proved otherwise.

“We’ve made commitments to not permit violent offenders or sexual offenders,” said Colorado Village Collaborative Executive Director Cole Chandler during the April information session. “We have created a strong prohibition of drugs and alcohol on this site, and we’re also looking at various security measures and ways to mitigate our activity throughout the neighborhood.”

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The information session wasn’t enough to keep some residents from taking legal action.

Theresa Marchetta, spokesperson for the Office of Mayor Hancock released a statement to CBS4: “We understand the concerns, fears and questions raised by residents and will continue to partner with the CVC to address them. We stand proudly with the CVC – it will take a whole-of-city approach to deliver safer, healthier and more dignified options to our unhoused neighbors than living out on the streets.”

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Petaccio hopes people in the neighborhood keep an open mind.

“It’s not going to ruin the neighborhood, and hopefully something good comes out of it,” said Petaccio.

The Colorado Village Collaborative and Park Hill United Methodist Church have two virtual community information meetings planned for:
May 13 from 7-8:30 p.m.
May 15 from 10-11:30 a.m.

Colorado Village Collaborative Executive Director Cole Chandler said he wants to open the Park Hill site, which should have room for up to 50 people, by early June. CBS4 has reached out to the attorneys representing the plaintiffs for comment.

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(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)  

Andrea Flores