Testifying at hearing

THE SWEARING-IN of those about to testify takes place Thursday night at the North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting at the Wilkes County Schools' Stone Center on Cherry Street.

A homeless shelter won’t be built at 108 Sparta Road in North Wilkesboro’s Fairplains community due to action of the North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment Thursday night.

The five-member board of adjustment denied the Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter board’s request for two zoning variances and a conditional use permit needed for the shelter to be built on the 1.6-acre Sparta Road (N.C. 18 North) site, which is next to Beulah Presbyterian Church.

The ruling came at the end of a 1½-hour-long hearing on the requests at the Wilkes County Schools’ Stone Center on Cherry Street. Eight people spoke in favor of granting the requests and three spoke against it.

The hearing was first scheduled at town hall but was postponed when the crowd present on the original date of July 11 exceeded fire code standards. About 100 people turned out on both dates.

Elizabeth Huffman, homeless shelter board chairman, and board members Dan Huffman and Carmen Decker said during the hearing before the ruling that the board would seek another site for a new shelter if denied regulatory approval to build at 108 Sparta Road.

The shelter board requested variances from two requirements of an amendment to the town zoning ordinance, approved by the North Wilkesboro commissioners on May 8, 2018.

One requirement prohibits a new homeless shelter from being within 250 feet of property zoned or used for residential purposes and the other says a new homeless shelter must have access to a public sidewalk.

The 108 Sparta Road site is within 70 feet of a residence along Sparta Road, according to evidence presented at the hearing.

According to measurements by Lisa Casey, board of adjustment chairman, and Kelly Coffey, the town’s former interim planning director, corner of the shelter proposed on the site would be a little over 67 feet from a residence north of the shelter. These measurements were presented during the hearing.

Board of adjustment member Mike Staley said that is a significant variance from 250 feet. The shelter board requested a variance of 135 feet.

Regarding the variance from the public sidewalk requirement, Coffey testified that that no public sidewalk exists or is planned in the foreseeable future in the vicinity of 108 Sparta Road.

Board of adjustment member Freida Matthews made a motion to deny the shelter board’s request for a variance on the sidewalk requirement. Staley, who seconded the motion, and board member Monica Hawn voted in favor of it. Board member Jane Wilborn abstained from voting, which is counted as a “yes” vote under procedural rules.

The chairman (Casey) only votes in the event of a tie.

Wilborn made a motion to approve the shelter board’s request for a variance from having to be at least 250 feet from any residence or residential property after the board discussed the fact that it is less than 70 feet from one residence. Wilborn’s motion died without a vote due to lack of a second.

Staley then made a motion to deny the shelter board’s appeal for proximity variance. That motion was seconded by Matthews. The motion passed 3-1, with Staley and Matthews voting for it and Hawn’s abstention counted as a yes. Wilborn voted against it.

As a quasi-judicial entity, the zoning board of adjustment board is charged with basing its decisions on findings of fact and how those facts relate to compliance with the town’s zoning ordinance.

The board’s decisions can be appealed to the courts, but not to the North Wilkesboro commissioners. The appeal would need to be based on whether proper procedure was followed or if the decision was supported by the town’s zoning ordinance.

The existing Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter is at 86 Sparta Road, about 600 feet south of 108 Sparta Road. It has been in operation there for 31 years and can provide temporary shelter for 11 people at a time.

The shelter board is trying to raise $500,000 for building a shelter with capacity for 40 homeless people. The proposed facility would have a learning center and full kitchen. About $130,000 has been raised for the new center, according to testimony Thursday night by shelter board members.

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