Carrboro is having a public meeting to contemplate how to modify land-use ordinances for the redevelopment of the Inter-Faith Council for Social Service’s 100 W. Main St. property, perhaps on Tuesday, Nov. 17. The FoodFirst project would relocate the community kitchen which currently serves meals in downtown Chapel Hill.
Food insecurity is a problem in our area and it is the mission of the IFC, PORCH, Club Nova, and other local organizations to fill the need. Carrboro would be doing its part by hosting the community kitchen.
The Carrboro ordinance hearing will seek to answer key questions: Will the IFC project be conditional use with public hearings at some later date or will it simply be allowed “by right”? In addition to Club Nova’s and IFC’s community kitchens, could a third or fourth facility be allowed “by right”? Should the current separation requirements be removed? Keep in mind Chapel Hill put all of its emergency and transitional shelter facilities and a large residential drug detox and halfway facility in one-fifth of a square mile around Homestead Park.
Carrboro residents and business owners should be able to openly discuss their concerns. Rhetoric intended to stunt honest discussion and villainize anyone who has legitimate questions should be avoided, such as in Kirk Ross’ recent column.
Homestead Park area neighbors thought it would be neighborly to share some of our observations and experiences with town processes, ordinance changes, and IFC spokespeople. We published a report on ABetterSite.org with public policy recommendations and lessons learned from the backroom deal to move the shelter from downtown Chapel Hill to the Homestead Park area.
Included in our report is a “Developer Transparency Pledge” which would encourage healthy and transparent conversations to facilitate appropriate stipulations on the FoodFirst and future projects. The IFC should sign this pledge for FoodFirst.
Carrboro residents and business owners should look closely at the IFC’s responses to Carrboro planning staff questions. For example, IFC stated that its new Chapel Hill facility would provide emergency shelter for “17 men who will be checked in elsewhere.” The “elsewhere” part of the answer is evasive from a Carrboro point of view because the IFC stated during the Chapel Hill shelter development approval process that emergency shelter clients will be admitted via its FoodFirst facility. Also, during the shelter approval process, community members were led to believe that emergency shelter clients would be transported to breakfast at FoodFirst, but the IFC’s recent response to Carrboro reveals that they will not.
The IFC’s response to Carrboro indicates that the 52 transitional shelter men will eat lunch in Carrboro, but taking four buses to get to and from lunch seems less than ideal, timewise.
These are the kinds of details that citizens can ask be clarified and stipulated if a special-use permit is required, but not if a “by right” zoning ordinance is adopted.
Carrboro community members and businesses should be concerned about how IFC leaders talk behind closed doors. Citizens should take note of tactics to hire facilitators with confidential contracts that may have non-disparagement clauses favoring IFC. Also be aware of meetings billed as “community discussions” where citizens are not actually permitted by IFC to ask questions. Aldermen should mandate open meeting laws and public facilitator contracts for meetings that they require or organize whether the law requires them or not.
Carrboro can learn from the missteps Chapel Hill made during its shelter approval process by requiring transparency, open discussions and honest representations. This will be key for the IFC to have a healthy relationship with its neighbors.
Mark Peters lives in Chapel Hill.