Hearings at hand on homeless shelter, codes

By Tom Joyce - tjoyce@civitasmedia.com
This photo from last year, taken from Spring Street, shows the general location of a planned expansion of the nearby Shepherd’s House homeless facility. -

Two public hearings are scheduled Thursday night in Mount Airy, both related to housing but in entirely different ways.

While one issue concerns those needing a temporary place to call home in a group setting, the other is targeting existing single-family and other structures for increased regulation.

Approval was given to hold both hearings by the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners at its last meeting on April 5. Each will be conducted during the board’s next meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Municipal Building.

Shepherd’s House rezoning

One of the hearings stems from plans announced last year by the Shepherd’s House homeless facility on Rockford Street for an expansion more than doubling its existing space and better meeting the needs of the target population.

Those plans call for constructing a 12-bed residential-care facility on a 1.1-acre site at 227 Rockford St. owned by the nearby Haymore Memorial Baptist Church, which also owns the present shelter nearby. The expansion would include office and educational space in addition to that for temporary housing.

The existing shelter, a former residence, now contains four bedrooms and can serve a maximum of 18 people. The new facility located to its rear would accommodate around 50 people at a time.

Thursday night’s hearing is required due to rezoning being sought for the property in question to allow the construction.

It is now zoned R-6 (General Residential)/B2 CD (General Business-Conditional District), and also is included within the local historic district. A request has been made to the city government to change that to R-4 CD (Residential and Office-Conditional District).

Conditional zoning typically refers to flexibility for the use of land in a way not otherwise permitted within a particular zone, which may be allowed as long as certain conditions are met.

In the case of the planned homeless facility, its use would be limited to residential care, shelter and halfway house functions, with any additional rooms or principal structures to require approval by the commissioners. Also, the new facility and site improvements must occur in accordance with a certificate of appropriateness approved by the city Historic Preservation Commission in November.

Citizens will have the chance to weigh in on the proposed rezoning Thursday night.

No one spoke in opposition to it at a March 26 meeting of the Mount Airy Planning Board, an advisory group to the commissioners which voted 6-0 to recommend the change. The commissioners aren’t bound by that preliminary action.

The increasing costs of rental housing and other factors have led to more demands for services to the homeless, based on previous reports.

During 2017, the Shepherd’s House, Mount Airy’s only homeless shelter, served 261 clients, but was forced to turn away another 500 people due to lack of space, Shepherd’s House Executive Director Mary Boyles has said.

Fundraising efforts are well under way for the new facility, with $650,000 amassed as of late December including multiple anonymous donations.

Shepherd’s House officials have said they hope to launch a capital campaign for the project in late summer or early fall.

Codes-related hearing

The other public hearing scheduled Thursday night surrounds an effort to streamline the enforcement of minimum-housing and related regulations in Mount Airy.

This would occur through the city’s proposed adoption of the International Property Maintenance Code. It is a model set of guidelines embraced by other North Carolina cities which regulates minimum maintenance requirements for existing buildings.

Adopting it effectively would repeal the municipality’s present minimum-housing rules and other ordinances or parts of ordinances pertaining to that subject as well as add commercial, or non-residential, structures to the mix, based on earlier discussions.

The change is urged by Bill Beamer, who has served as the city’s part-time codes-enforcement officer since August.

In briefing the commissioners on problems he has encountered during a meeting in February, Beamer recommended the shift to the maintenance code. This was due to his contention that new and tougher regulations are needed to deal more effectively with rundown or dangerous structures in town.

He specifically mentioned commercial buildings that are fire hazards and breeding grounds for vermin.

The codes officer further said there is a need for higher monetary penalties for certain offenses and/or chronic offenders, which are now limited to $50 per day.

Beamer also has advocated more teeth for condemnations, including prohibiting continued occupancy for equipment-related reasons involving heating or cooling units and requiring landlords to provide permanent heating systems.

This also would add the authority to board up structures ordered to be closed until repaired or demolished, and have electrical service disconnected, which now doesn’t exist, and order buildings to be vacated in emergency situations.

Among other changes sought, the codes officer could have a structure demolished after a short appeal period, action now requiring the commissioners’ approval.

This photo from last year, taken from Spring Street, shows the general location of a planned expansion of the nearby Shepherd’s House homeless facility.
https://www.mtairynews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/web1_Expand-this.jpgThis photo from last year, taken from Spring Street, shows the general location of a planned expansion of the nearby Shepherd’s House homeless facility.

By Tom Joyce

tjoyce@civitasmedia.com

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.

Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.