Catholic Worker House of Hagar Is Debated in Wheeling

Photo by Casey Junkins Kate Marshall, owner of the House of Hagar, speaks at a Monday Wheeling Planning Commission meeting.

WHEELING — The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia believes revoking East Wheeling resident Kate Marshall’s permit to operate the House of Hagar would violate Marshall’s religious freedom, an attorney told Wheeling Planning Commission members.

During the commission’s meeting Monday, members discussed allegations of drug use and reported sex offenders staying at the 114 14th St. home at the same time children are there. City officials also addressed reports of unauthorized food service at the house and improper vehicle parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

Marshall acknowledged there can be problems with parking on the public street, but said most of the other complaints resulted from “misinformation.”

“There is no way to zone fear or misinformation,” Marshall said during the public hearing. “There is such a fear of the poor. … We’ve never had drug activity at our house. We have never had the police come to our house and say we have done anything wrong.”

Marshall said her Catholic Worker house provides shelter to those who may otherwise have none.

“I think there is a fear of the other when you don’t know the other,” she said.

Tom Connelly, the city’s assistant economic and community development director, and City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth said the city has received complaints about violations of multiple stipulations to which Marshall agreed last year when commission members issued a special use permit for the House of Hagar. Connelly has said the planning commission has the right to revoke the special use permit, but members also could amend or modify it, or simply extend it.

However, when commission member Howard Monroe asked Marshall if she wanted the permit to be extended, Marshall said she only applied for the permit to foster amicable relations with the city when officials asked her to do so last year.

“This is how we live out our faith. We cannot find another Catholic Worker house that is required to have a permit,” Marshall said.

Amid questions of Marshall’s freedom to practice her religion in her home, ACLU West Virginia Legal Director Jamie Crofts is representing Marshall in her dispute with the city.

“It is not a house of worship, nor is it a shelter,” Crofts said. “It is her home.”

However, Humway-Warmuth believes the city has the authority to regulate land use according to its zoning codes, as long as the law is applied fairly to all those living in a particular area.

“Is it a religious facility or is it a home? It sounds like it is both,” Connelly added.

Commission member Jeff Mauck asked Marshall about allegations made by neighbors about being “accosted” for cigarettes or money. However, Marshall said this is a common occurrence that could happen virtually “anywhere” in East Wheeling.

One of the concerns involves whether Marshall is serving regular meals without a permit from the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department. Howard Gamble, the department’s administrator, said food service at a private residence normally does not require any permit. However, if meals become “routine,” such as every week at a particular time, that could require a permit, he said.

Monroe took issue with the notion that the commission has the authority to “shut down” Marshall’s house. He asked Connelly and Humway-Warmuth what would happen if the commission revoked the special use permit.

“Specifically, what kinds of things is she doing that she would not be able to do if the permit was revoked?” Monroe said.

Connelly said he did not have sufficient information Monday to give a definitive answer, while Humway-Warmuth emphasized, “We believe a special use permit is required.”

After a nearly three-hour meeting, commission members said they would consider the information presented at Monday’s public hearing and discuss the issue again at their next meeting, set for 5 p.m. Oct. 16 on the first floor of the City-County Building, 1500 Chapline St.