The North Wilkesboro Zoning Board of Adjustment recently approved a building height variance for the Samaritan Purse’s Wilkes Ministry Center under construction on N.C. 268 East.

The board unanimously ruled on June 13 that the center could be built as designed at a height of 66 feet. About half of the planned footprint for the center falls in the town’s Light Industrial (LI) district, and the other in the Corridor Overlay (CO) district.

According to town zoning ordinances, buildings in LI have a height restriction of 80 feet, but structures in CO—a zone running about 250 feet on either side of N.C. 268—can only be 40 feet tall.

North Wilkesboro Town Planner Meredith Detsch said Thursday that her interpretation of the zoning ordinance is that the CO height restriction exists to  "create aesthetically pleasing corridors as you drive in our town."

The CO ordinance further states that it was drafted “to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the motoring public by reducing impediments such as light glare, distractions and visual clutter/obstructions.”

The evangelical Christian disaster relief organization requested a variance of 26 feet, allowing construction of a three-story, 66-foot tall building. The 47,000-square-foot building is scheduled to be completed and occupied in July 2020 and be home to about 160 new employees.

Before the variance was approved, Board Chairman Lisa Casey asked Kelly Coffey, North Wilkesboro’s interim planning director at the time, if the building had to be 66 feet high.

Coffey said the ordinance allows an 80-foot height in part of the proposed building and 40 feet in the other part, with the mid-point being 60 feet, which is close to what Samaritan’s Purse requested.

Casey asked Coffey if floors of the building could be built at different heights. When Coffey said he thought this would create a hardship, Casey said the hardship is applying the corridor overlay district requirements.

Michael Parsons, an alternate board member called to be on the board at the June 13 meeting, said the property’s slope created a hardship by limiting where the building could be constructed. He said the building site is exactly where the property allowed and made reasonable use of the building site.

Casey replied, “I think we’re all in agreement that they have to put the building there, but the topography has nothing to do with how tall the building is.”

Greg Hartley, a civil engineer with Charlotte-based EMH&T Inc., said at the hearing that Samaritan’s Purse wouldn’t ask for a higher building later. Casey added, “Rather than give blanket approval, we need to say that construction cannot vary from what is presented.”

Parsons made the motion to approve the variance and allow construction of the 66-foot-tall building. Mike Staley seconded the motion it passed unanimously.

The Wilkes Ministry Center will have 125 work stations and 28 offices on its second and third floors, a cafeteria and kitchen on the ground floor and a parking lot with over 250 spaces. The cafeteria will also be a place for daily staff devotions and other functions. It will have seating for about 240 people.

Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham said in May that the new office complex was needed because the ministry’s 202,000-square-foot Wilkes Office and Warehouse is full. It’s immediately east of the Wilkes Ministry Center site and White Pine Street.

On the other side of the Wilkes Office and Warehouse is a former soft drink bottling plant, where Samaritan’s Purse first established a presence in Wilkes after Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated owner Frank Harrison of Charlotte donated the building to the ministry about 15 years ago.

Graham also said there is no room left for growth at the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters building on Bamboo Road in Boone.

The corridor overlays are 500 feet wide, running parallel to highways N.C. 18, N.C. 268, N.C. 115 and U.S. 421 Business, extending from town limits to the town’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. The corridors include all of the land adjoining the highways and run 250 feet from the centerline on each side of the highways.

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