Homeless shelter and zoning debated at Winston-Salem city council @Daniel_Schere

At it’s meeting Monday night, the Winston-Salem City Council voted to extend the period that temporary homeless shelters may remain open to 150 days beginning December 1 until March 31, 2015. The city defines a temporary shelter as “The use of permanent structures to provide temporary housing during life threatening weather conditions.”

Planning Director Paul Norby said that North Carolina’s building code allows temporary shelters to stay open for 150 days within any 365-day period, and that when the city’s Unified Development Code is changed to reflect this it will be consistent with the state code.

Temporary shelters are currently permitted in areas that are zoned for accessory uses—most commonly churches. According to notes from a work session on November 13, the concept of a temporary shelter arose from the need to construct shelters at a low cost as an alternative to establishing a permanent homeless shelter in a church, where it would be required to meet more costly building code requirements.

At the session, Deputy Directory of Inspections Chris Murphy said that the UDO says shelters may be set up in any district but the building code prevents them from being established in select buildings, such as warehouses.

At the meeting councilwoman Denise Adams said she wanted some more clarification within the UDO about where the shelters could be set up.

“I shouldn’t be able to set up a shelter in my home, in my neighborhood,” she said.

Murphy said churches often house the shelters because they operate soup kitchens and other social services that are classified as accessory uses, as opposed to principle uses. This is what makes the locations favorable for shelters.

Councilman Derwin Montgomery said he also would like to know what other kinds of accessory uses could be used for shelters.

“It was stated by staff that this UDO specifically changes the amount of days, and I think that there has been, from council here a desire to hear more specifically, which I think is necessary, what other accessory uses can allow for this type of use,” he said. “Outside of this conversation I think that’s another conversation that I think hearing dialogue is necessary.”

Norby emphasized that the amendment to the UDO changes only the length of time the shelters remain open, but not the actual areas where they may operate.

“It doesn’t change the other permissible locations of it,” he said.

The council unanimously approved the change, which Mayor Allen Joines said was important considering the timing of the meeting.

“I think it’s crucial that we go ahead and take this action tonight since we’re right in the midst of it,” he told council.

Also at the meeting, the council approved the closing of three streets. The first came at the request of Exodus United Baptist Church and will close an abandoned 15-foot alleyway on the south side of Wilber Street. The second came at the request of Carmen Barnard and will close Barnard Ridge Road—a right of way located off of Bethania Road in Bethania near the Classic Packaging plant. The closure comes as part of a rezoning of the land adjacent to the road. The third street to be closed is a 210-portion of Brent Street and comes at the request of Travis Reeder.

The council also discussed a petition from the city to close a 492-foot portion of Ninth Street between Patterson Avenue and Chestnut Street. The possibility of closing the street triggered comments from business owners whose businesses are dependent on the street and would be affected by the closing. Council members voted to continue discussing the issue at their meeting on January 20.

The council also pushed discussion on an item concerning allowing electronic sweepstakes operations to its March 2 meeting. The petition they are considering would change the zoning classification from Limited Business to Highway Business at 2825 New Walkertown Road. The addition of sweepstakes businesses has received considerable amounts of criticism in Winston-Salem recently. George M. Bryan Jr., president of the Winston-Salem Neighborhood Alliance is opposed to the change.

“Allowing sweepstakes to be in additional zonings is a trend that has the potential to affect all neighborhoods in Winston-Salem as there may be continuing requests to allow sweepstakes in these and a variety of other zones,” he wrote in an email to Chris Frye on September 10. !