Shelter tonight

Mark Peters of writes:

Tonight the Chapel Hill Town Council will discuss shelter guidelines. The staff recommends that they “receive the report.” The guidelines have not been to any of the other advisory boards for their input.

One year ago, the Town Council removed a 25-bed limit in the ordinance on shelter size. Many citizens commented that if the size is removed, then it needs to be replaced with a thoughtful ordinance that addresses siting, concentration and capacity issues. Many ordinances from throughout the state and country were provided. Two council members petitioned for the planning board to make this a reality. The planning board appointed a subcommittee that met about six times over the summer with a brief break to consult the council on whether it wanted guidelines or an ordinance. Town council acted as if an ordinance was immutable and opted for guidelines. In fact, ordinances are easily and routinely overridden during the SUP process, merely requiring a “public finding.”

Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said, “If we are going to move forward directing the planning board to do these guidelines, we have to have something that is going to be useful,” and “Look at best practices of other communities, how they do things,” He also stated that facilities like Freedom House should be covered by these guidelines.

After 15+ hours of meetings in the subcommittee and planning board, the result was a mere one and a half pages, which fail to provide guidance to developers and fail to provide protections and assurances for existing nearby uses.

Compare these weak shelter guidelines to the Neighborhood Conservation Districts created by the town, and you will see a stark contrast. NCDs are ordinances, whereas shelter guidelines are merely recommendations that no one is required to follow. NCDs have specificity: lot sizes, house sizes, setbacks, parking, building heights, neighboring building heights, whereas the shelter guidelines are devoid of specificity. NCDs were created based on common sense and preferences of the neighborhoods and town, whereas the shelter committee ignored all citizen input and crime statistics, and selectively chose its “facts” to create guidelines that really don’t guide. This outcome is almost certainly because the committee didn’t want to do anything that might accidentally limit the IFC project or admit to the backroom deal that places all the at-risk services in the county in one-fifth of a square mile.

There were a number of public process issues identified with the proceedings, some of which we have documented with audio at For example, the committee didn’t keep detailed minutes, and it didn’t share any of the written or oral public comment with the planning board for its Nov. 2 meeting (when it could have voted without this input). The most egregious error was a quote during the Nov. 2 meeting by a planning board member that “The New York City police department was unable to provide any statistics between homeless centers and rising crime,” which turned out (after a public records request for the link) to say “The NY city police department was unable to provide any statistics between homeless centers and rising crime BEFORE THE STORY DEADLINE” (caps added for emphasis).

To see more details about these issues as well as annotated videos of the planning board meetings and the citizen presentation at the November 16th PB meeting, see

The town council needs to:
• Create guidelines that encourage Fair Share and discourage clustering
• Create an ordinance with fixed proximity or density limits for at-risk uses (provide “specificity” like dozens of other communities have done)
• Create an ordinance with protections for schools, parks, neighborhoods
• Require public siting of shelters that receive public funding (IFC’s proposal has $1.8M in public assistance)
• Require public siting of shelters that are to have a lease with the town
Here are the most significant issues with the current shelter guidelines:

* They still do nothing to resolve the problems we documented in 2010.
* They fail to acknowledge that clustering at-risk services is undesirable. If developers use the proposed formula, then all at-risk facilities will continue to be encouraged in the Homestead Park area of town.
* They fail to provide remedies for shutting down facilities that result in negative impacts (no “teeth”).
* They allow 25 shelters in one square mile without even notifying the town council that other at-risk facilities exist in the area.
* They leave sex offenders out in the cold.
* They fail to require public criteria and siting process for facilities that receive public funding.
* They fail to define shelters properly in the land use management ordinance (loopholes allow pocket shelters as secondary use).
* They continue to permit new facilities and expansion of facilities in the “Homestead Road At-Risk Campus.”
– Mark Peters

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  1. Terri Buckner

     /  January 19, 2011

    The prescriptions Mark and his group are asking for would basically mean that no shelter could be located in Chapel Hill. For those who would like to review the proposal from the planning board for themselves, it can be found at:

  2. Mark Peters

     /  January 19, 2011

    Since all the at risk overnight social services are at Homestead/MLK, that leaves the vast majority of CH/C available. Ditto for the other requirements.

  3. John Kramer

     /  January 19, 2011

    Well said Mark, thanks for your hard work on this, I am sure it is frustrating considering who you are working with (or against).

  4. Terri Buckner

     /  January 19, 2011

    Your words Mark:
    The town council needs to “create an ordinance with protections for schools, parks, neighborhoods.” Show me an area of town that doesn’t have a school, a park, and/or a neighborhood.

  5. Mark Peters

     /  January 19, 2011

    Terri, all of those proximities need to be looked at when siting. Key points in our position are that one small area of town should not have a disproportionate amount of at risk social services and that projects with significant public funding should have a public process.

    Had there been a public process to find this site, then we could have found a site that doesn’t leave sex offenders in the cold and doesn’t take drunk and high men next to 200 preschoolers on 200 nights per year.

  6. Terri Buckner

     /  January 19, 2011

    The search for a site has been going on for over 10 years and not one single site has been deemed appropriate by the neighbors. According to the criteria you want the council to adopt, even the Rosemary St facility wouldn’t pass since it is close to a day care facility, a park and the university (a school).

  7. John Kramer

     /  January 19, 2011

    So, in your book, Terri Buckner, two wrongs make a right?

  8. Mark Peters

     /  January 19, 2011


    How many shelters are clustered near 100W Rosemary? Do we have an overconcentration of at risk facilities there?

    The Rosemary street facility is downtown and not in a suburban area. Was the Rosemary street facility intended to be a permanent facility or an interim facility?

    How many feet is it from 100W Rosemary to a day care facility, to a park, and to a school? 1,000 feet? 1,500 feet? Show us some numbers.


  9. Terri Buckner

     /  January 19, 2011

    Mark, My point today has been that you’ve gussied up your arguments against the MLK site by adding what sound like reasonable zoning requirements, but when it comes right down to it, your basic argument is that you feel like your neighborhood has an over-concentration of facilities and you don’t want a new one. As I’ve said before, I’d have more compassion for your argument if you would just say that and stop trying to add all this reasonableness, most of which can be shot down pretty easily.

    For better or worse, Chapel Hill has adopted a policy of high density within its urban area making it virtually impossible to site a facility where it will not have impact on someone’s neighborhood. Whatever guidelines are adopted this time, the next time someone tries to site a facility in your area or someone else’s, those guidelines are going to be criticized and amendments will be requested to take the proposed site out of contention.

  10. Mark Peters

     /  January 19, 2011


    The item on the table is shelter guidelines.

    If you are suggesting that we should have zero guidance in siting at risk facilities because Chapel Hill has a rural buffer, then I strongly disagree that that is a good reason.

    Taking the IFC site as an example of bad siting, it is adjacent to 2 preschools, very close to a park, 115 feet to a neighborhood, and places 3 at risk facilities in one-fifth of a square mile. It wouldn’t flunk one or two of the ordinance or guideline restrictions in other jurisdictions which have them, it would flunk ALL of them in most of those jurisdictions. Add $2M in public assistance, the backroom siting deal, and $200M+ UNC downtown development motivation, and you have clear evidence that a public process should have been used to seriously consider available sites in town. If we had a public process with publicly vetted criteria (eg – shelter guidelines as a starting point), then we could have weighed these criteria against possible sites.

    Some of your comments attempt to paint me in a bad light that is not supported by the facts. The IFC site is a bad site for a plethora of reasons, not just overconcentration.


  11. Mark Peters

     /  January 19, 2011

    “even the Rosemary St facility wouldn’t pass since it is close to a day care facility, a park and the university (a school).”

    The Rosemary St. Facility would pass our proposed day care, park, and school recommendations. It is 1144 feet from a day care, 1800 feet from a park, and the closest K-12 is miles away.

  12. Runner

     /  January 20, 2011

    The Town Council blew off the need to relocate the shelter for so long that the University had to finally step in and solve the issue for them. All the Town Council needs to do now is wipe out the rules that get in the way. It does not look like something so “trivial” as facts can stop this freight train.

    There’s a $two billion goliath in town that wants this deal done, so it will be done.

  13. John Kramer

     /  January 20, 2011

    Mark, at least you can hold out hope that the town council may be more reasonable than Buckner!

  14. Terri Buckner

     /  January 20, 2011

    “Some of your comments attempt to paint me in a bad light that is not supported by the facts. The IFC site is a bad site for a plethora of reasons, not just overconcentration.”

    Mark–I’m sorry if you are taking any of this personally. I’ve made every attempt to keep this discussion focussed on the issues. I don’t like your arguments and don’t find some of them credible. But you, as a person, are more than the sum total of your arguments on a single topic.

  15. Tom Field

     /  January 20, 2011

    I moved from downtown to escape the shelter years ago — but if I visit/shop downtown I still always have the shelter nearby — these are often druggies and criminals that are left to rot on our downtown streets — nobody wants them next door — there is no answer except to find the location that affects the least number of people — not sure where this is — but it is NOT downtown, where it affects the MOST number of people — unfortunately, somebody will get screwed by the necessary re-location — folks are absolutely right to fight it, but somebody will lose.

  16. Mark Peters

     /  January 21, 2011


    One point that I would like to make regarding “folks are absolutely right to fight it, but somebody will lose.” is that the Homestead Park neighborhoods already have 2 at risk overnight facilities and this will be the third.