Despite a report earlier this week to the contrary, plans are moving forward to repair and reopen Richmond County’s only homeless shelter.
Arthur B. Thompson Jr., chairman of the Mental Health Society of Richmond County, told The Daily Journal on Wednesday that his board has voted unanimously to proceed with a more affordable of three options given it by a structural engineer.
At issue is the property located at the corner of U.S. Route 1 South and Midway Road. Until the fire last August, the property had been grandfathered into the city of Rockingham’s Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) and permitted to operate the homeless shelter and soup kitchen — the only soup kitchen within city limits. The fire caused the building to suffer damage — the cost of which to repair or replace easily exceeding the UDO’s standard of 25 percent of the appraised valuation of the property.
Thompson said he doesn’t argue that point. The fire caused at least $25,000 in damage. The property is valued at roughly $42,000, or nearly 60 percent. But Thompson said the UDO has a clause that will help protect the building from returning to its former use.
Thompson said Neal Smith Engineering, of Pinehurst, is expected to submit to the Rockingham Board of Adjustments and Appeals in Mach or April an application for a conditional use permit (CUP). The CUP is required because the city passed its zoning regulations after the homeless shelter already existed. Uses of a building as a homeless shelter or soup kitchen are not permitted in the current location, which is zoned Highway Business (B-3).
Of three options presented by the engineering firm to the board — which ranged from $49,5000 to $194,000 — Thompson said board members supported the idea of removing the debris from all three of the building’s rooms and then install a new roof on the entire building. The two rooms closest to Midway Road would be sealed off, used only for storage, while the third room would be used as the base of operations. That option would cost approximately $61,850, Thompson said.
That figure, the engineering firm noted, does not include the cost of installing amenities required to comply with the city’s building code. Neal Smith Engineering estimated those costs could be an additional $50,000 to $150,000.
Thompson said he hopes the city’s “silly rules” don’t make it cost prohibitive to reopen. He said he’s banking on the city’s UDO to aid his efforts. While the city does have more defined restrictions in place, Thompson pointed to Section 6.04(D)(2), which dictates that “the permittee will comply, to the extent reasonably possible, with all provisions of this ordinance applicable to the existing use except that the permittee shall not lose his right to continue a nonconforming use.”
The UDO continues, noting that “mere financial hardship caused by the cost of meeting such requirements, such as paved parking, shall not constitute grounds for finding that compliance is not reasonably possible.”
As Thompson said he and his board continue to move plans to rebuild forward, a fellow board member, Rev. C.J. Smith, led earlier this week a first meeting to build a Richmond County Rescue Mission which also aims to serve the county’s homeless population.
Thompson praised Smith’s efforts. He noted the new group’s expanded efforts would include Alcoholics Anonymous, parenting classes, chapel programs and other services to help the homeless combat “life-controlling” issues. He also noted Smith’s effort is with a Christian focus, which could aid funding efforts — while taking away funding from the Mental Health Society.
Thompson said Smith, of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Rockingham, would naturally have the support of the Baptist churches in the area. If that association would choose to support the rescue mission initiative, it’s possible, Thompson said, that the Mental Health Society could lose up to half its annual operating budget.
Smith told The Daily Journal that the Richmond County Rescue Mission is “a completely independent venture” and separate from anything he does as a board member for the Mental Health Society.
“We already discussed that we will not go to a church (to solicit support or donations) that supports the Mental Health Society,” Smith said. “There are a lot of churches in our county that are not funding anyone and that is who we want to reach. We don’t want to take their funding away.”
Thompson applauded the new group’s efforts, which he said have been tried before in Richmond County without success. He said the idea of a Richmond County Rescue Mission is a worthy one but the area and its people don’t have the economic means to support it.
Staff writer Amanda Moss contributed to this story.