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Alma city commission hears public comment on youth refugee shelter proposal

Brett Dahlberg
Arturo Puckerin of Greenville speaks at the Alma City Commission meeting Thursday about a proposal to rezone a parcel of land for a refugee shelter.

The Alma City Commission has heard public comments about a proposal to allow construction of a youth refugee shelter for the first time since the city’s planning board voted to recommend against the plan last week.

The Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Bethany Christian Services needs the city to rezone a parcel of land on the northeast side of the city to allow the organization to convert a vacant nursing home into a shelter for young refugees.

The land is owned by Michigan Masonic Home, which ran the nursing home there until it moved residents to other facilities during the pandemic.

Public comments at Tuesday’s full city commission meeting were split between people urging the city to follow the planning board’s recommendation against the conversion, passed by a 4-2 vote last Wednesday, and those asking the city to reconsider.

Todd Moeggenborg, Michigan Masonic Home’s chief financial officer, said the planning commission’s vote was a setback, but he was not planning on pulling the rezoning proposal. “We’ll let the process play out,” he said.

City attorney Chuck Fortino said he could not recall a time when the full commission went against the planning commission’s recommendation, but he said there’s nothing preventing them from doing that.

City officials said they expect to reach a final decision next month.

Brett joined WCMU in February, 2021, as a general assignment reporter. He was previously the health reporter at WXXI Public Broadcasting in Rochester, N.Y., and has filed stories for National Public Radio, IEEE Spectrum, The Village Voice and other outlets.