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State civil rights department cautions Alma on rezoning debate

Brett Dahlberg
The former Warwick Living Center nursing home in Alma is now vacant and the subject of a rezoning proposal to allow its conversion to a shelter for young refugees.

The Michigan Department of Civil Rights reminded the city of Alma about its legal obligations in a letter this week as the city nears a vote on a rezoning request.

The city is deliberating over whether to rezone a parcel of land now occupied by a vacant nursing home to allow it to be converted to a shelter for young refugees.

The state civil rights department said it’s concerned the city is about to make a decision that would “discriminate against individuals based upon race, color and national origin.”

The issue has dominated city commission meetings this summer. The zoning board voted to recommend against the conversion earlier this month. It’s scheduled for a vote by the full city commission next month.

Alma City Attorney Tony Costanzo said the city is aware of the prohibition against discriminatory zoning practices. He said the planning commission voted against the rezoning because the city is so divided on the issue that it’s impossible to determine whether allowing the shelter is in the best interest of its citizens.

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.