Mark Peters of abettersite.org 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 http://abettersite.org/Planning.aspx. 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 http://abettersite.org/PlanningBoard.aspxv.
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