Proposed homeless shelter

Plans for a homeless shelter at this former dental clinic facility at 106 Elkin Highway (N.C. 268) were rejected Wednesday night by the North Wilkesboro Board of Adjustment. The town was required to post this conditional use notice sign prior to the meeting.

The Catherine H. Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter board is considering appealing another denial of a conditional use permit request in its ongoing efforts to find a long-term shelter site.

The North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment denied the shelter board’s request for a conditional use permit for a site at 106 Elkin Highway (N.C. 268 East) after a public hearing Aug. 29.

“I believe there was a denial of due process and a complete lack of evidence to support the board of adjustment decision,” said shelter board member Carmen Daecher on Friday. Daecher submitted the application for the permit July 9.

Daecher said during the hearing, “We believe that we do not in any way negatively impact this area with this proposed use.

“If you take a poll as to whether a homeless shelter is needed in this town, everyone would say yes until it’s put in their back yard. We comply with the ordinances that are applicable to us, and we believe we have a right to be there.”

The shelter board’s only option for appeal is in Wilkes Superior Court. The North Wilkesboro commissioners appoint board of adjustment members but don’t have authority to override their decisions.

Meanwhile, Crossfire United Methodist Church is still providing temporary space for the homeless shelter on the second floor of its worship center on N.C. 115 near North Wilkesboro as the shelter board continues efforts for a long-term site.

The board of adjustment voted unanimously to deny the request for a conditional use permit for a vacant building at 106 Elkin Highway, just east of the N.C. 268/N.C. 18 intersection and just west of the N.C. 268/Flint Hill Road intersection. The shelter board wants to establish a homeless shelter in the two-story, 3,224-square-foot building.

Brushy Mountain Dental (Dr. Christopher E. Roberts) formerly occupied the building and it is still owned by Roberts and his wife, Timberli W. Roberts. They offered to donate it to the shelter board, even though Roberts said he was offered $65,000 for the building. “We believe that the county needs it and we have the property that is almost worthless otherwise, but would be priceless to the homeless shelter.”

A year ago, the board of adjustment denied the shelter board’s application for a conditional use permit and two zoning variances for vacant property on N.C. 18 North. The shelter board wanted to build a facility there, but ran into opposition from people who live and/or own property nearby.

The town’s homeless shelter ordinance allows homeless shelters only on property zoned highway business, prohibits them from being within 250 feet of property zoned or used for residential purposes and requires that it have access to a public sidewalk.

Exhibits shared during a public hearing on the request Aug. 29 established that the former dental clinic meets these conditions. The building was shown on a map to be 450 feet from homes on East Waugh Street.

“We are in conformity” with town land use plans and zoning ordinances, and “to our knowledge, there are no other officially adopted plans of the Town of North Wilkesboro to which we must conform,” stated the shelter board’s application for a conditional use permit.

The meeting with the hearing was held both remotely via Zoom and in-person at the Yadkin Valley Events Center in the Holiday Inn Express in Wilkesboro, with attendance capped at 80 people and masks required as COVID-19 precautions.

Lisa Casey, board of adjustment chairman, said, “I think the issue here is that it meets the zoning requirements, but that doesn’t mean it belongs there.”

After three people spoke in favor and four against allowing the shelter on the Roberts property, adjustment board member Otis Church said putting the shelter there would materially endanger public health or safety.

“You step out at 6:30 in the morning, and all that traffic and everything — it’s dangerous, and they step right out into the main street (N.C. 268),” he said. “The proximity to the highway makes it unsafe to use.”

Church added that a homeless shelter there would substantially injure the value of adjoining property. “I think it would devalue the property on the same street.”

Martha Nichols, an adjustment board member, said the shelter would be consistent with the town’s comprehensive plan but would not be in harmony and compatible with neighbors. Church agreed.

Nichols added, “The traffic back and forth, and these people coming in in the dark and going out in the dark in the wintertime — it’s a safety issue, for me, at that location. It’s not the place for a homeless shelter because the safety around it is not good because of the highway.”

Church made the motion to deny the request, “because of the safety issue involved between two major highways.” Nichols seconded the motion and Casey and Mike Staley concurred.

Church, an alternate board member, replaced Frieda Matthews on the board just after the meeting began. Matthews recused herself from the hearing after stating she had a close relationship with an affected person and couldn’t be unbiased.

Public comments

The Rev. Dr. Alan Rice, pastor of Crossfire Church, said he had received no complaints about the homeless shelter or people staying there since it moved to the second floor of the church’s sanctuary as a temporary location in October 2019.

“We have been blessed” by the shelter and “enjoyed their presence in a wonderful way,” said Rice.

Casey said she asked Wilkes Sheriff Chris Shew if there had been complaints about the temporary location and was told there had been none.

Duncan Electric Co. owns two buildings immediately west of the proposed shelter site, one a multi-tenant commercial building and the other occupied by Iglesia Pentecostal Camino Alcielo church.

Duncan Electric President John Battle said these business owners and renters “all feel that adding the homeless shelter to our immediate area will not only be bad for retail business but will also jeopardize the safety of the homeless people as well as our renters, employees and church members. We feel the town would be doing us a disservice by allowing this homeless shelter.”

Yvette Bushard, owner of the nearby Muzz’s Gym, said her customers should have 24/7 access to the gym without feeling any undue safety concerns.

James Brown, co-owner of an adjoining parcel deeded to the Willa Jean Brown Living Trust of Boone, said, “If the board does not deny this conditional use permit for a homeless shelter, be advised we will appeal that decision through all legal means. The location should be for the benefit of all and harm none, and this proposed location does not meet that standard.”

Scott Nafe, who owns the old Carolina Mirror Co. complex, redeveloped to become the multi-use Mirror Factory north of the building on the other side of N.C. 268, said a homeless shelter at the proposed site would increase crime in the immediate area. “You’re five times more likely to have a police report at the homeless shelter versus the immediate area where my property is located. In my opinion it’s simply not worth it and would materially affect adjoining property values and increase crime,” said Nafe.

President’s reaction

Shelter board president Elizabeth Huffman stated on her Facebook page about the Aug. 29 decision, “Legally we met every aspect of the law that North Wilkesboro had created in their homeless shelter ordinance.”

Huffman added, “They require us to be in highway business zoned district but then say it is a safety issue that we are around a highway. The last time we were denied due to not having sidewalks. We have sidewalks at this property but the town now says it’s not safe enough with sidewalks.”

Huffman said the temporary shelter has served 178 people since opening. She asked, “Where would these people go if the homeless shelter was not in Wilkes? Could it just be North Wilkesboro doesn’t want a homeless shelter in the city limits? We have a lot of city agencies that use shelter services all year long. Do they return the support that the shelter gives them?

“Do you think all homeless people are criminals, drug addicts and hopeless causes? If your income stopped today, how many days away from homelessness would you be? Do people judge out of fear rather than knowledge?”

A few days after the board of adjustment denied the request for regulatory approval of the N.C. 18 North site last year, the shelter board received a letter asking it had to vacate the home it had occupied nearby on N.C. 18 North for about three decades. Shelter board members said that the shelter had outgrown the house, which could accommodate about 10 people and had only a small space for entire families.

Daecher said Friday that 20 beds “might be sufficient” for a new facility.

The shelter moved out and was without a home for about a week before reopening in the temporary location on the Crossfire property, just north of the intersection of N.C. 115 and Edgewood Road.

A member of the shelter board posted on the shelter’s Facebook page, “We thank all of our supporters who showed up to speak on our behalf tonight and are grateful for the eloquence and poise that each of them displayed.

“We will continue working fervently toward our goal of a permanent residence.”

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