A North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment public hearing concerning a proposed homeless shelter site was postponed when an overflow crowd of over 100 people showed up in the commissioners’ room at town hall for the meeting Thursday.
The hearing will instead be at 6 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Stone Center in the Wilkes County Schools Administrative Building on Cherry Street, North Wilkesboro.
The zoning board of adjustment is holding the meeting with the hearing to consider the Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter Board’s request for two variances and a conditional use permit for a proposed new Barber shelter site.
The board of adjustment’s approval of the two variances and conditional use permit is needed for the homeless shelter to be built on the proposed site, which is next to Beulah Presbyterian Church at 108 Sparta Road (N.C. 18 North) in North Wilkesboro’s Fairplains community. The 1.60-acre parcel is for sale.
Lisa Casey, who chairs the board of adjustment, postponed the hearing so it could be held in the larger facility on Cherry Street after the commissioners’ room was filled to its capacity of 68 people, with another dozen or so standing in the room’s foyer and over 24 more on the sidewalk outside town hall.
North Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jimmy Martin, responsible for fire safety code compliance, took a head count about 10 minutes before the meeting was to start at 6 p.m. and shared the results with Casey.
A large percentage of the people in the crowd appeared to be in support of the homeless shelter, with many wearing stickers indicating that sentiment.
In an interview, Casey said the board of adjustment is responsible for making a land use decision and not a decision reflecting views on a homeless shelter. She said that when a public hearing is required, the board typically makes its decision at the meeting in which the hearing is held.
Casey said the board of adjustment will base what it decides on its findings of fact and how they 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, said Ed Evans, interim town manager.
The shelter board is seeking variances from two requirements of an amendment to the North Wilkesboro Zoning Ordinance, approved by the North Wilkesboro commissioners on May 8, 2018. One prohibits a homeless shelter from being within 250 feet of any property zoned or used for residential purposes and the other says a homeless shelter must have access to a public sidewalk.
A legal notice published by the town announcing the hearing, said the proposed homeless shelter site is within 115 feet of a residence and the shelter board is seeking a variance of 135 feet. Evans said additional measurements suggest the proposed facility would actually be within 67 feet of residential property.
The shelter board is also seeking a variance from having to have access to a public sidewalk since none exist in the vicinity.
The zoning ordinance also requires that a homeless shelter have a conditional use permit. The zoning board of adjustment would decide these conditions, if any.
Reinforcing Casey’s statement, Evans said the board of adjustment’s consideration of the application and its eventual decision has nothing to do with whether it thinks the proposed use is a good or bad idea. He said it has nothing to do with statements made in support of the homeless shelter or otherwise.
“It doesn’t even have anything to do with whether the public likes the idea or not. All agree that homeless shelters are needed and part of the world we live in these days. These factors are not what the board of adjustment is charged with deciding,” Evans explained.
“The board of adjustment is simply charged with making a determination regarding the legality of building a facility and granting variances and a conditional use permit as it applies to the town zoning ordinance. Is it legal by the ordinance or not? Does it comply with provisions of the ordinance or not? If not, can variances be granted and conditions be imposed that are acceptable and don’t change the legality of the ordinance?”
The shelter board on July 8 voted unanimously to proceed with efforts to build a new homeless shelter on the parcel next to Beulah Presbyterian Church (108 Sparta Road), just a short distance north of the existing Barber homeless shelter site on Sparta Road for 30 years.
The shelter board held the vote because of opposition it recently encountered in the Fairplains community to the board’s plans for building a new and larger homeless shelter next to Beulah Presbyterian. Fairplains residents have cited concerns that they say are related to the combination of having a homeless shelter, the North Wilkesboro Comprehensive Treatment Center and Mountain Health Solutions in their community. Mountain Health and the treatment center provide treatment for opioid addiction.
These residents say they have found homeless people on their property, as well as beer and liquor containers, hypodermic needles and other items. A member of Beulah Presbyterian said people believed to be homeless left trash and defecated in the church yard.
The zoning amendment approved last year also says a homeless shelter can’t be within 2,500 feet of another homeless shelter and that it “must be in harmony with the area in which it is located and be in general conformity with the (town’s) comprehensive plan.”
The current homeless shelter, also on Sparta Road, is within 2,500 feet of the proposed new site, but it would be closed with the opening of a new shelter at 108 Sparta Road.
The shelter board is trying to raise $500,000 for building a shelter with capacity for 40 homeless people. Shelter board members say the current shelter, which can provide temporary shelter for 11 people at a time, isn’t large enough to meet existing needs. The proposed facility would have a learning center and full kitchen.
Dan Huffman, a member of the shelter board, said the board has invested thousands of dollars on a site survey and site studies, all required, on the parcel next to Beulah Presbyterian.
Huffman said Monday that he and the board appreciated the large number of shelter supporters who showed up Thursday. “These folks demonstrate a genuine concern and active effort to help the homeless in Wilkes County,” he said.
He added that the shelter board invites them all back to the rescheduled meeting on Aug. 22.
Huffman said the board will have fundraisers in the next 30 days. The inaugural Catherine H. Barber Homeless Shelter Golf Tournament is Aug. 1 (rain date: Aug. 8) at Oakwoods Country Club in Wilkesboro. A concert and square dance at VFW Post 1142 in North Wilkesboro is Aug. 4 from 2-5 p.m., in conjunction with Arbor Grove United Methodist Church.
Besides Casey, other zoning board members are Freida Matthews, Monica Hawn, Mike Staley and Jane Wilborn. Michael Parsons and Martha Nichols are alternates.