Chapel Hill Town Council Approves IFC Community House

The Chapel Hill Town Council last night approved a special use permit (SUP) for the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service’s Community House at the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr Boulevard and Homestead Road in a 6-2 vote after another dramatic public hearing. (The first part of the public hearing was held on March 21). Council members Czajkowski and Easthom voted against the application; council member Pease was absent.

The hearing began with the presentation of a petition from the lawyer for a group of neighbors asking that Mayor Kleinschmidt and council members Rich, Harrison, and Czajkowski recuse themselves from voting on the SUP application because they had ostensibly already made up their minds when they answered a question about the issue on the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce candidate questionnaire during the 2009 elections.Two other council members allowed that they had been in the room for a closed session when former Mayor Foy (who was in attendance at the public hearing) reported on his negotiations with the IFC and UNC to select a site for the new facility.

Town Attorney Ralph Karpinos responded to the petition and asked the mayor and five council members whether they felt they were unable to listen and weigh all evidence because they had already made a decision prior to the hearing. All answered “no.” The Council then voted on whether these members could still participate, and the vote was unanimous.

Next, there was a presentation by the lawyer for IFC. She addressed the various findings and strongly stated IFC's position that they be allowed to retain the 17 emergency occupants in the SUP because that service would not be provided otherwise and is a community necessity. Council member Czajkowski, who had submitted an alternative resolution removing the 17 emergency occupants from the permit (among other issues) pushed back, asking the IFC lawyer to define "community" because she had called the emergency shelter service a "community necessity." There was then discussion of pre-screening people at the IFC facility in Carrboro on white flag nights. Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton spoke in favor of conducting the pre-screening in his community.

Numerous people spoke in favor of the IFC site, including Rabbi Jennifer Feldman of the Chapel Hill Kehillah Synagogue. She was challenged by Czajkowski about why her faith community and others couldn’t take on the emergency shelter service. Rabbi Feldman talked about her experience providing such services at a large urban synagogue and how much work it took to get that service going. She also explained that the Kehillah did not have adequate restroom facilities or a shower and looked to IFC to provide that leadership, but did not rule out faith communities taking on this challenge in the future.

A number of people spoke against the permit application, raising concerns about safety, crime rates, sex offenders, the lack of a transparent siting process, and the teeth or lack thereof for a "good neighbor plan." Opponents felt that the good neighbor plan would not include many in the adjacent neighborhoods because they did not have neighborhood associations, something that seems like it could be easily overcome to allow representation on a committee to oversee the good neighbor plan, which would troubleshoot any issues that arise with the new Community House.

In the end, the Town Council voted to approve the SUP and then discussed the language of the good neighbor plan. The IFC will be required to bring plan back to the Council for approval. Mayor Kleinschmidt thanked all for speaking at the hearing and offered the services of his office to help neighbors feel comfortable with the new facility.


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