Do what’s right for Shepherd’s House

It appears Mount Airy city council will get a second chance to do the right thing in allowing the Shepherd’s House to expand.

There is a movement by the Shepherd’s House and its supporters to present the city board with a petition asking the commissioners to reconsider their rezoning denial from earlier this month, a petition that reportedly has in the neighborhood of 1,500 city resident signatures.

There also is an apparent response from at least two city commissioners — Jim Armbrister and Steve Yokeley — to suggest the homeless shelter move to a corner of the former Spencer’s property, now owned by the city, on the corner of South and Franklin streets.

The Shepherd’s House, of course, is a homeless shelter at 227 Rockford St. It has begun plans to expand on a 1.1-acre lot adjacent to its present facility, with the expansion fronting on Spring Street.

In order to accomplish this, the organization needed the city to rezone the lot from what is designated as R6/B2 CD, which means the area is for general residential and general business-conditional use to R-4 CD, which is for residential and office-conditional use.

The lot is also included within the city’s history district.

The rezoning denial came during the May 3 board of commissioners meeting, on a 4-1 count, with Jon Cawley casting the lone dissenting vote.

Commissioner Shirley Brinkley cited her fear the expanded facility would have a “big impact” in the adjacent area, which she claimed would be contrary to what the city’s comprehensive plan calls for.

Commissioner Dean Brown said the facility was not suited to the historic district, claiming “hundreds” of people had contacted him with their opposition, many representing the city’s historic commission. That body helps oversee development in the historic district, making recommendations to the city commissioners on requests similar to this one.

Jim Armbrister and Steve Yokeley joined Brown and Brinkley in denying the request.

It’s hard to take issue with commissioners who are standing up for constituents, or who are trying to keep the city on course with its long-range planning documents.

But in this case, those arguments ring hollow. There has been plenty of other development there over the years that had a significant impact on the neighborhood and didn’t exactly fit in with the idea of a historic neighborhood, with little or any opposition from the city commission.

The city held a public hearing on the rezoning proposal April 18, and not a single person spoke against the plan. It’s hard for us to imagine that hundreds of people privately contacted commissioners without a single one showing up for the public hearing.

It’s likewise important to note the city commissioners, while elected to serve on the town council and ultimately make final governing decisions for the city, cannot be everywhere and know everything. As a result, the board relies on the expertise of professionals, such as those in the city planning department, along with other specialized committees that are appointed to investigate questions more thoroughly than the city commissioners may be able to do.

The city planning commission, which acts in that role on zoning and development issues, gave a unanimous nod to this project, recommending the board of commissioners give it approval.

The city’s historic commission is put together, at least in part, to guard against development that could change the character, or alter the historic value, of the district.

That body likewise gave its nod to the project, recommending the city commissioners give it the go-ahead.

Given all of this, we have to ask what’s really going on with the city commissioners regarding the Shepherd’s House?

The commissioners will soon be given another opportunity to take this up, with the Shepherd’s House supporters providing a petition to the city, and a potential discussion on the proposed Spencer’s site proffered by the city.

It’s important to note the Shepherd’s House has been at its present location for a number of years, and has spent at least some money on preparation work to expand there. While we appreciate the compromise offered by Armbrister and Yokeley, we hope the commissioners will hold an honest and open discussion on the issue. It may very well be that the Spencer’s location would be better, but if not, we believe the commissioners should reconsider the original rezoning request at its present location.