A planned discussion Thursday night about an alternate location for an expansion of the Shepherd’s House homeless shelter has been postponed.
That issue, which has inflamed the community, was scheduled to be updated by Shepherd’s House and city officials during a 7 p.m. meeting of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners.
It would have continued a discussion begun at the board’s last meeting on May 17 — before a standing-room-only crowd of shelter supporters — about using municipal property for new Shepherd’s House facilities rather than its existing site disapproved for rezoning.
However, a joint announcement issued this week by the Executive Committee of the Shepherd’s House and City Hall says the discussion on alternative sites for the Shepherd’s House facility would be delayed.
Instead of Thursday night as scheduled, plans now call for the matter to be on the agenda for a later meeting.
On May 17, the board voted 5-0 vote to appoint a city delegation to explore conveyance options for municipal land with officials of the Shepherd’s House and come back with specifics this Thursday. Options presented include giving property to the Shepherd’s House, selling it or possibly leasing it for $1 per year on a long-term basis.
Land near the corner of Franklin and South streets has been suggested for the shelter expansion that had been targeted for its present site at 227 Rockford St. On May 7 in a surprise move, the commissioners denied 4-1 a rezoning request to allow the project to proceed there, with concern for the effects on the surrounding historic district and neighborhood opposition cited.
The expansion is sought to address a growing homeless population in the area.
Reason for delay
While a clear direction for the Shepherd’s House expansion was expected to be outlined at Thursday night’s meeting, the respective parties have not had an opportunity to meet and review findings on the property selection process together.
“I want to be clear that the public discussion is being postponed with the full agreement of the Shepherd’s House Executive Committee,” City Manager Barbara Jones explained. “We hope everyone understands why there will not be a piece of new property offered to the Shepherd’s House (Thursday night).”
One reason for this is to avoid a hasty move that might prove problematic later.
“No one wants a delay, but we should have a careful, deliberate process,” Jones added. “This is an important undertaking for our community, and we want to be smart about what comes out of these meetings.”
The city manager said both municipal officials and Mike Bowman, who chairs the Shepherd’s House governing board, thought delaying the discussion was an appropriate move.
“Mr. Bowman suggested a reasonable extension of the timeline to conduct our meetings.”
Bowman believes this was a necessity.
“We needed to slow the process down for several reasons,” he said in a statement. “One reason was it was not realistic to get an eight-person committee together, look at numerous properties, do our due-diligence and get approval from the Shepherd’s House board to move forward.”
The timing of the matter also is a factor in the delay, with budget and other matters looming.
“Another reason was recognizing that the commissioners have many pressing issues to handle in the next 30 days and it is in the best interest of the city of Mount Airy to work on all these issues that are important to the future of the city and that includes a new and bigger homeless shelter,” Bowman’s statement continues.
“If there are not many properties that fit the Shepherd’s House needs, we hope the commissioners will rezone the property on Spring Street to give us options.”
The joint statement expresses the hope that “everyone sees that this eight-person committee is being forward-thinking so that all key issues can be worked on in the best interest of Mount Airy’s future.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.