No opposition was voiced Thursday night for proposed rezoning that would allow an expansion of an entity in Mount Airy which serves the growing homeless population.
A required public hearing conducted during a meeting of the city commissioners was a bureaucratic hurdle needing to be cleared to allow Shepherd’s House officials to construct new facilities behind its existing homeless shelter at 227 Rockford St.
The commissioners were not scheduled to vote on the rezoning request Thursday night, and are expected to approve it at an upcoming meeting due to no concerns being voiced about the expansion from either the public or city officials.
However, the need for the 12-bed residential-care unit, to be constructed on a 1.1-acre site behind the Shepherd’s House that fronts Spring Street across from Hutchens Cleaners, was made clear.
Shepherd’s House Executive Director Mary Boyles said that after she took the position in September 2015, the homeless shelter had a record number of clients during 2016.
It provided temporary housing and other services for 253 people that year, but another 413 were turned away for lack of space. Then in 2017, the client caseload totaled 261, with 568 not being served for the same reason.
“I knew we had to do something to make a difference,” Boyles said during an informational presentation held in conjunction with the public hearing on the required zoning change.
People don’t like to think the homeless problem exists in a pleasant little town such as Mount Airy, the inspiration for the fictional Mayberry, but it does and those in position to help can’t turn away from the need, she stressed.
The solution by Shepherd’s House officials is the new development to be realized through private donations already received and an upcoming capital campaign.
Plans call for the expanded shelter to accommodate around 50 people at a time, compared to the present facility that is limited to 18. The expansion would include office and educational space in addition to that for temporary housing.
The educational component is a key, Boyles said, because many of the homeless people served have less than a high school education.
“It would be set up basically like a school,” she said of that space.
The goal is to restore people’s hope and rehabilitate their lives so they can move on to become productive members of society, the shelter official said. Boyles added that making a difference for those folks also will make a difference for the community at large.
Property eyed for the expansion is now zoned R-6 (General Residential)/B2 CD (General Business-Conditional District), and also is included within the local historic district. To allow the shelter use, the zoning must be changed 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.
Blueprints for the project which were received Thursday afternoon show the expansion would include one overall facility of two different sections that are interconnected by a passageway-type enclosure.
“It actually looks like just two houses,” Ben Barcroft of the city planning staff said Thursday night regarding how the new facility would blend in with the existing neighborhood.
“R-4 would fit in well with the zoning that already exists,” Barcroft said of the residential/office classification sought.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.