Despite the majority of views presented during a public hearing Tuesday before the Rockingham City Counci’, council members decided to keep the text amendment for the homeless shelters and soup kitchens use as a conditional use instead of permitted.
The council voted unanimously to adopt the text amendment, thereby putting aside a request by one resident to delay a vote for at least one month.
That means the process by which The Baker House, which was destroyed in a mid-August fire, will undergo increased scrutiny. City leaders, however, see it as a way the use would be permitted at all, as such uses are not listed in the city’s existing code.
Nearly a dozen community members weighed in on the matter.
John Massey, board planner for the city’s Board of Adjustments, was there to present the text amendment. Massey said there are two forms of use that the Board of Adjustments deal with, permitted and conditional. Permitted uses are approved administratively, but conditional uses require more scrutiny. The reason behind the latter is because there could be adverse impacts on the community surrounding the building.
Many came out and spoke that the text needed to be changed to permitted use. This would allow the shelter and soup kitchen to be located anywhere within a Highway Business (B-3) zone — which is what the land on which The Baker House, on U.S. Route 1, is designated.
For homeless advocates, the issue was clear. Winter is coming, and there are people who need a place to eat and sleep.
Carole Venable, a member of the board of directors for the Richmond County Mental Health Society — the agency that operated The Baker House — spoke up on allowing it to be a permitted use.
“The need is great. No one wants to be left out in the cold,” Venable said.
Venable explained that there have been offers for a temporary shelter, but those areas are not designated B-3.
“It really puts a burden on us trying to get something up soon enough to shelter the homeless during the winter,” Venable said. “Making it a permitted use would have made it easier, but I understand the opposite position. We will just have to take some extra steps to get this shelter up.”
Roger and Judith Coan, who live across from The Baker House, spoke out against making it a permitted use. The couple said they had to deal with a number of problems associated with it. Some of these problems included people having sex and relieving themselves in their yard.
“It wasn’t just a once and awhile thing to deal with. It was constant,” Roger Coan said. “It happened in front of my children. It just isn’t safe. I am the only one here who lives with it. The rest here get to go home.”
The Coans state that they are not against the building of a new shelter. They have taken the time to help feed and shelter some of the people that have come knocking on their door. All they ask is that people have a chance to have their say as to where this shelter would go.
And the board seemed to agree.
“It is not a question as to whether or not we should have a shelter,” Councilman Travis Billingsley said. “We are all in agreement that we need to help those that need it. It is more of an issue of where it should be placed.”