Shepherd’s House: Use facts, not feelings

To the Editor,

We are writing regarding the Shepherd’s House request for rezoning of adjacent land, on Spring Street, for the building of a new facility. A building that will allow us to fulfill the needs of our homeless community and continue the work of restoring hope and rebuilding lives. Our programs offer those less fortunate hope through financial skills, finding employment, parenting and drug addiction programs which assists them in becoming productive members of our community.

We first want to express that we appreciate the fact that serving as a city commissioner is many times a thankless job. So much to be responsible for, not always having the training or expertise needed to make informed decisions on the part of the community they were elected to represent and serve.

As members of the Board of Directors, along with a great number of supportive citizens, we have real concerns about the process that was revealed with the recent denial for rezoning. We live in a democratic society yet it appears that the commissioners do not have a full respect for that process. Facts, not feelings, need to govern decisions made for the public good. They are elected to represent all the people allowing proper “due process” and most importantly, preserving the “voting process.” Here are some facts as we see it.

FACT: The commissioners appoint persons with certain expertise to guide their decision making process. The planning board presented a document confirming that the rezoning request fully met all requirements for approval and stated the rezoning request was consistent with the comprehensive plan.

FACT: Haymore Baptist Church voted, regardless of how close the vote was, to approve a long term lease of the property for the expansion on property they own.

FACT: The Historic Preservation Commission, an appointed board, voted unanimously to approve the project and the carefully designed plans that would meet any requirement for the facility to have the right look and feel that enhanced the surrounding homes.

Now for what happened next.

During the public hearing on April 19, no one showed up to voice their objection to the rezoning request. Questions about problems associated with the shelter were addressed by Chief Dale Watson who stated that there were minimal calls and that the shelter and its staff were pleasant to work with.

Despite these facts the commissioners voted against the rezoning request citing density issues. Our interpretation of the comprehensive plan, and corroborated by those with specific knowledge of the plan, is that it refers to parcels and buildings, not population density. We might suggest that there are apartment buildings in the vicinity that are likely more problematic as there are no restrictions as to who can live there, not to mention the condition of those facilities. We have been serving up to 18 clients at a time and the expansion would allow for that to increase to 30 residents that are screened carefully, supervised completely and kept off the streets, which should be the larger concern.

It should also be noted that the shelter has operated for over 15 years at the current location. If this project is such a concern in the general area, perhaps the commissioners and the “quiet minority” would prefer that we just shut down and stop serving the needs of this population, in a very Christian environment.

The commissioners claim that they received hundreds of calls in opposition to the rezoning. Where were they during the public forum? Why would the shelter not be given specifics and the “due process” of addressing those concerns in a public hearing? When will the commissioners tell us and the public what the negative impact to the surrounding area is?

We have concerns that the commissioners have already determined they will not reconsider the rezoning request. This is reinforced by recorded comments from those meetings which indicate that they feel they may need to reword their statements to avoid the appearance that they, and we quote, “we are not capable of making a decision without changing our minds.”

By the way, if the public was not aware, they can get copies of all the meetings as it is public record. You may want to know more about how things are done after the meetings are over as it may affect other projects, needs and concerns for things that are being presented for consideration.

Last, we would suggest that if the commissioners do not agree to reconsider the request, that we will likely assert our right to the 60-day period for an appeal through the court system. There may even be a precedent to consider a lawsuit. We have tried to take the high ground in all that we have been and are doing, but it is time to assert what is right for the public good, what is fair and transparent dialog, what is correct due process. It is time to insist that if we are to be judged for the work being done, that all parties that may have an objection meet us in open session and prove, with facts not opinions, what is right for the community moving forward.

By the way our governing body is called The Greater Mount Airy Ministry of Hospitality, doing business as the Shepherd’s House. We mention this to emphasize that we serve a larger area than just Mount Airy and Surry County, partly because there are no other facilities in the region that provide the comprehensive services that we do.

To one commissioner’s concerns that we should only serve our area because it would be otherwise a strain of public funds, I would also remind the public that the Department of Social Services are supported by state and federal monies. Our organization is supported by our community, state and federal funds and grants. If the board of commissioners is going to assert notions they need to get their facts right. As a matter of “FACT,” some 76 percent of our clients are from Surry County.

Mike Bowman, chairman

Board of Directors of The Great Mount Airy Ministry of Hospitality dba The Shepherd’s House,

Submitted on behalf of the full board of directors.