Commissioner still opposed to homeless shelter

First Posted: 7/17/2009

A Mount Airy commissioners lingering desire to see plans for a homeless center in the city derailed could face hurdles due to officials previously approving a rezoning decision that paved the way for the facility.
City Attorney Hugh Campbell said Friday that while the concerns of Commissioner Jon Cawley could lead to future changes that could keep homeless shelters out of certain areas, he is not sure about the effect on actions already taken.
Cawleys objections stem from a 4-1 decision by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners on June 4 to rezone the site of Mount Airy Church of God from the B-4 (highway business) designation to B-2, which permits general business use. The church is at the intersection of Carter Street and U.S. 52 at the southern end of town.
That move was to accommodate plans to convert church property into a residential facility for homeless persons designed to accommodate 120 families. A group called the National Coalition for Homeless Americans, based in Rural Hall, is developing the center using a government grant.
Cawley was the only commissioner to vote against the rezoning in June and at another commissioners meeting Thursday night continued to voice his opposition during a portion set aside for city officials to comment on anything they wish.
I remain convinced that it would be the worst use of that building, Cawley said of the homeless center project at the church. While Cawley said he is not opposed to helping those in need, he is particularly concerned about its plans to admit people from other counties.
Cawley said this proposal affects so many government dollars in Surry County, including taxing social services programs and burdening the local school system. We are going to be socially setting ourselves back in every way we can imagine.
Since the June 4 vote, Cawley said the issue has been keeping him up at night, and he believes if its not re-examined, were all going to be kicking ourselves in two years.
I cant let this die, the North Ward commissioner added. Every one of us is going to be asking, how did this happen?
But while Cawley said he wanted to see some new regulations passed to address the shelter before its doors open, other city officials who responded said there could be problems with effectively undoing what has occurred.
City Manager Don Brookshire said that local regulations could be altered to address future cases. This could include requiring facilities such as homeless shelters to be considered a special use under zoning ordinances, which would require them to meet certain conditions to be approved, based on Thursday nights discussion.
Under the citys present zoning laws, a business or other facility can operate in a zone that covers specific uses. In this case, the homeless shelter is allowed under the general business guidelines.
We didnt specifically approve it for a homeless shelter, Mayor Jack Loftis said, but we didnt disapprove it, either.
Its not the kind of thing you can throw up anywhere, Cawley said of a facility for the homeless.
Campbell said Friday that it remains to be seen how this issue will play out in response to Cawleys objections.
I have not been asked to look at anything, the city attorney added. I dont know that any policy changes will come from that discussion or not.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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