The North Wilkesboro Board of Adjustment botched a good opportunity to provide the Catherine H. Barber Memorial Homeless Shelter a long-term home last week.

The board of adjustment voted unanimously not to issue a conditional use permit needed for the shelter to operate in a two-story building on N.C. 268 East, between the N.C. 18 North intersection on the west and the Flint Hill Road intersection on the east

It was the board of adjustment’s second similar action. The board, consisting of five people appointed by the North Wilkesboro commissioners, denied regulatory approval needed for building a new Barber homeless shelter on N.C. 18 North almost a year ago.

Crossfire United Methodist Church stepped up by providing temporary facilities for the Barber homeless shelter on the second floor of the church sanctuary building on N.C. 115 a year ago. The church set an exemplary example, but it shouldn’t be expected to continue providing this.

The N.C. 18 North site drew considerably more opposition from nearby property owners than the latest proposed site and required approval of two zoning variances, one because it was less than 250 feet from residential property and the other because it lacked access to public sidewalks. A conditional use permit is required for any new homeless shelter in North Wilkesboro and it can only be on property zoned highway business.

The 10,019-square-foot building on N.C. 268 East meets all of these requirements, plus it was offered to the shelter board for free. Dr. Chris Roberts and his Brushy Mountain Dental occupied the building until Roberts moved his practice to West Park, North Wilkesboro. He and his wife, Timberli W. Roberts, still own the building and offered to donate it to the shelter board.

It’s hard to imagine a better opportunity for a homeless shelter within the North Wilkesboro city limits than the Roberts building. It met all the black and white requirements in the town’s zoning ordinance, but subjective “findings of fact” requirements were another matter.

The board of adjustment focused on at least two of these when it denied the shelter board’s request. One is that the proposed site in question “will not materially endanger the public health or safety” and the other is that it won’t “substantially injure the value of adjoining property.”

The safety issue is the building’s proximity to traffic on N.C. 268 East, even though vehicles on this section of the highway are slowed by the fact that the N.C. 18 intersection and Flint Hill Road intersection are only about 600 feet apart. The only adjoining parcel with a building is on the west side.

The homeless shelter should be centrally located for convenience (including public transportation) and highly visible for safety and security, which means a site in or near North Wilkesboro or Wilkesboro.

Unfortunately, North Wilkesboro’s regulations and their implementation by the board of adjustment appear to nearly make it impossible to locate a homeless shelter in the town.

Last year, shelter board members said Wilkesboro officials told them that because the town’s zoning ordinance doesn’t address homeless shelters, it would take at least three months to get a ruling if approval of a site for a shelter there was requested.

The result is that it is unreasonably difficult to find a homeless shelter site locally.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.” Does the response of local governments to needs of the homeless in Wilkes not reflect on these institutions and its leaders similarly?

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