Transitional housing denied

Published 9:57 pm Wednesday, February 15, 2017

During a packed meeting Tuesday, county supervisors in Prince Edward voted to kill changes to the Zoning Ordinance which would have allowed homeless shelters to exist in the county.

The county’s planning commission recommended denial of the amendment — part of the months-long discussion leading to the final decision before supervisors.

The motion to approve the change failed on a 4-4 split vote. Buffalo Heights District Supervisor C.R. “Bob” Timmons, Farmville 801 District Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones, Farmville 701 District Supervisor Jim Wilck and Hampden District Supervisor Dr. Odessa Pride voted in opposition of a motion to approve the change.

C.R. "Bob" Timmons

C.R. “Bob” Timmons

If approved, the amendment would have both defined “transitional housing” and allowed a transitional home to exist in areas of the county zoned A1 or A2 Agricultural or in Agricultural Conservation and Agricultural Residential districts by special use permit.

Following the decision, supervisors agreed to form a committee comprised of supervisors and members of the Farmville Area Rescue Mission (FARM) to seek a “long-term” solution to the problem.

Of the 10 citizens to speak during the public hearing, who ranged from FARM members to Longwood students to neighbors of the previously discussed FARM shelter location, only two expressed disdain for the change.

Debora Warner, the FARM secretary, presented signed petitions and copies of a letter from the Farmville Area Habitat for Humanity supporting FARM’s mission.

“We are an asset to this community,” said Warner, explaining that in its eight years of service, FARM has sheltered only 28 individuals, using churches in Farmville for much of the housing.

FARM President Johnna Shular later explained they “operated only three months out of the year for many of those years.”

Johnna Shular

Johnna Shular

Bemeche’ Hicks spoke in favor of the change. “This could happen to any of us,” he said. “You never know when you’re going to be homeless … It’s your job as supervisors to make sure these people are supported.”

“I would love to see Prince Edward County step up to the plate to be the only county in seven with a homeless shelter,” Shular said.

She urged supervisors to consider the lives at stake. “I’m a Christian, and I believe the Lord tells us to care for our brothers and sisters,” she said.

Salvation Army Chairman and FARM volunteer Monroe Preston agreed with the comments of those who spoke before him.

“Right now, tonight, I have a lady and three kids staying in a motel,” he said. “It costs so much to put someone up in the motel that, by the end of the year, we’ve run out of money.”

Preston addressed safety concerns that had been noted during previous public hearings.

“The community, the way it is now, if someone’s out there, there’s no supervision,” he said.

Said Preston: “If you don’t think that we have homeless people in Farmville, spend a little time in Walmart (and) spend a little time in the hospital.”

The Rev. Matthew Shannon, of Beulah AME church, said, “I stand here just to remind you of your mission … You say you provide for all citizens. You say you provide essential services.”

Joe Huddleston, who previously spoke against the proposed amendment, maintained his stance during the meeting.

“We don’t need it in this area,” he said.

“We sit here (at) every board of supervisors meeting and open with prayer,” said Kenneth Jackson. “Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, I am.”

He said the issues at hand pertained to the whole county, noting different situations can leave people homeless, such as house fires.

“It’s very simple. Have you ever known anyone that was homeless?” he asked. “My oldest brother was homeless, and I didn’t even know. We need this.”

Robert M. “Bobby” Jones

Robert M. “Bobby” Jones

Josh Blakely, a member of Longwood University’s faculty, shared the words of his four-and-a-half-year-old son. “That’s not good. We need to fix that,” Blakely read. “We have people who want to make a difference, and all we have to do is get out their way.”

Deana Bennett expressed concern about transitional housing in agricultural zones A1 and A2. She asked the board to consider a better location in town limits.

Carli Hanback spoke on behalf of Delta Zeta, her sorority at Longwood. The organization adopted FARM as philanthropic project and donated regularly to the organization, she said. “It means a lot to us.”

Board Chairman and Lockett District Supervisor Robert M. “Bobby” Jones said although he voted against the change during the planning commission meeting, after considering the matter more, his stance changed.

“I do feel like if churches in a rural area want to (step) up to bat, they should be allowed,” Jones said.

“I’m not opposed to providing a service,” said Timmons, “however the (proposed) zoning covers 99 percent of this county,” mentioning a lack of proximity to the town, services and security.

Jerry Townsend

Jerry Townsend

“Changing this zoning could create an issue,” he said. “We need to keep it somewhere closer … to town.”

Prospect District Supervisor Calvin Gray encouraged board members to consider meeting the goals listed in the board’s mission statement.

“We’re here to represent all citizens. Not a few,” agreed Leigh District Supervisor Jerry Townsend. “We’re in the business of helping people. That’s what it’s all about — helping people.”

“We are here and we are being told that everything’s perfect with the FARM, but guess what? I sent people to you that were turned away,” said Cooper-Jones.

“I have no problem with a transitional shelter … What I do have a problem with is when we trying to act like we are doing everything we can do when we’re really not,” Cooper-Jones said.

She directly addressed Shular, who suggested earlier in the meeting that Cooper-Jones knew about the need for transitional housing. “Because she called my name, I want to talk about what I want to say,” Cooper-Jones said.

Pattie Cooper-Jones

Pattie Cooper-Jones

“When (county citizens) bought their property, they bought their property for a reason, because it was zoned where they can live with their families without somebody shoving something down their throats,” Cooper-Jones said.

The board voted on a motion by Timmons to table the matter until additional research could be performed regarding churches hosting the homeless individuals needing a special use permit. The motion failed on a split 4-4 vote.

“The major issue we’re talking about is passing the ordinance for the county,” said Gray, who seconded a motion by Townsend to approve the amendment, which also died on a split vote.