ASHEBORO — A vacant property on the former Central School campus in east Asheboro will sit idle for a while longer.
During their regular August meeting Thursday night, Asheboro City Council members decided not to take up a request on the agenda to rezone 624 Brewer St. (a former elementary school building) and 621 Franks St. (a gymnasium) to O&I (office and institutional). They voted to continue a public hearing on the matter until their Sept. 6 meeting.
The decision followed 30 minutes of comment on and discussion of a request from Harold Anderson, president of East Side Homes LLC, seeking a continuance of at least 60 days on the matter.
The request reads, in part, that “numerous residents” in the East Side Homes “deny the proposed rezoning of the property is reasonably necessary to promote the public health, safety or general welfare and to achieve the purposes of the adopted Land Development Plan …” East Side Homes is an 18-unit apartment building in the former Central School building, which stands next-door to the two properties in question. It offers housing for low-income residents, 55 and older.
Anderson’s request said that the property owners and their attorney needed time to gather information and testimony about the proposed tenant, Ready 4 Change, for the former elementary school building.
The request for a continuance was “more of ignorance than opposition,” said Asheboro attorney Rodney Mason, representing East Side Homes. “… It could be that the East Side folks discover that their concerns could be assuaged, managed, or set aside and that would go a long way toward community harmony,” he said.
The former school building is zoned high-density residential; the gym is zoned conditional use general business. The request is to change the zoning on both buildings to O&I (office and institutional).
If council members approve the rezoning, a Greensboro-based counseling firm, Ready 4 Change, would get the green light to provide services — which include outpatient counseling and therapy for mental health and substance abuse needs, as well as a variety of support groups — in the former school building.
In votes taken in June and July, council members voted unanimously to deny a request for a special use permit (SUP) for Ready 4 Change.
That’s because the SUP required the applicant to provide evidence that the requested use was “more compatible” with the neighborhood than the previous permitted use — a day-care center. Those who spoke in support of the counseling center request did not present evidence to satisfy that standard.
Those who spoke against the request included the site manager for East Side Homes and area residents. The Rev. Phillip Taylor said residents of the community were “perplexed” by the idea of putting a business that would serve drug addicts and sex offenders across the street from a park where children play every day.
“Good program,” he said. “It needs to be in another area, in an area where it’s already zoned for professional services.”
Then, at the July meeting of the Asheboro Planning Board, the East Side Improvement Association (ESIA), which owns the property, requested the zoning changes for the buildings on a 3.3-acre parcel of land bounded by Brewer and Franks streets. In a unanimous vote, planning board members approved the request.
There are three buildings on the old Central School property. Until 1965, when the buildings were shuttered as part of school integration, the campus was the hub of community activity, school-related and otherwise. In 1981, the ESIA purchased the then-dilapidated buildings and slowly renovated them, recreating the community hub.
Dr. Donnellia Gladden-Green, representing the ESIA, challenged the legality of Anderson’s request Thursday night. State statute says a city clerk shall deliver a written statement from a resident or property owner about a proposed amendment, modification, or repeal to a zoning ordinance if it is delivered at least two business days before a vote on the proposal. Anderson’s statement was delivered on Aug. 7.
Gladden-Green said that the statement lists Deneal McNair as the applicant, but that the ESIA is the applicant. She said Anderson had no “standing” to submit a statement because he is not a resident of East Side Homes — and that East Side Homes had no legal standing either because it is not a North Carolina-registered entity, but a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ESIA. She added that delaying a decision also would cause “significant injury” to ESIA.
City Attorney Jeff Sugg explained that a rezoning matter is a legislative process, not a quasi-judicial proceeding where rules of evidence and strict standards for standing would be applicable.
Council member Jane Redding made a motion to continue the hearing until the council’s Oct. 4 meeting.
Mayor David Smith said that he thought a continuance was necessary, but that he was concerned that 60 days was too long.
“This is not news,” he said. “This is not new. It has been going on for months. I personally believe that just because the opponents have just now obtained counsel is a shortcoming on their part.”
Redding amended her motion to continue the hearing until September.
A side note
In a related matter, the ESIA questioned whether council member Katie Snuggs had a conflict of interest that would prevent her from voting on the case.
State statutes say that a board member shall not vote in a legislative land use matter (such as a rezoning) if the outcome is reasonably likely to have a direct, substantial and readily identifiable personal financial impact.
Snuggs said the case would not have any financial impact on her.
Smith asked if she wanted to be excused from participating. She said no. He asked if other council members wanted Snuggs to be excused from the case. None of the council members spoke up.
“I believe Mrs. Snuggs is qualified to hear this case,” Smith said.