An anti-abortion group will not move next door to an abortion clinic in West Raleigh.
The Raleigh City Council on Tuesday rejected a request by A Hand of Hope Pregnancy Resource Center to conduct operations out of its property on Jones Franklin Road next to Preferred Women’s Health Center. A Hand of Hope encourages pregnant women to pursue alternatives to abortion, and Preferred Women’s Health Center offers abortion services.
Under the city’s zoning code, only residential uses are allowed on the property, which Hand of Hope bought last year. So the group asked the City Council to rezone the property to allow for commercial use. Hand of Hope wanted to draw more clients and save money by relocating its office from a space it leases less than a mile down the street.
The issue divided area residents and council members for weeks. Some thought the ideological differences would raise tensions in the community, while others downplayed those concerns and argued that Hand of Hope has a right to operate there.
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The city’s Planning Commission – residents appointed by the City Council to judge whether such land-use requests are in compliance with city codes – unanimously recommended approval of Hand of Hope’s request.
But the City Council on Tuesday cited those same city codes when rejecting Hand of Hope’s request, and didn’t mention abortion or neighborhood tensions at all.
Kay Crowder, who represents that area of Raleigh, was the only council member who spoke. The council voted 7-0 shortly after she read a prepared statement, saying the property would better comply with the city’s Future Land Use Map if it were rezoned as part of a larger commercial project that enveloped all of Woodsdale Road, a dead-end street next to the property.
Hand of Hope’s property, if rezoned, would be the only commercial operation on Woodsdale, she noted.
“This coordinated approach would produce a more efficient use of the land,” Crowder said. “In contrast, this lot by lot piecemeal non-residential development will produce small scale offices on small lots.”
Ed Bell, who lives on Woodsdale, said he supported Hand of Hope’s request in part because its office would be “a relatively low-traffic operation.”
Others in the audience applauded the council’s move.
“The Raleigh City Council stood up for women in our city,” said Leigh Sanders, who lives in west Raleigh. “Patients at (the clinic) will be safer from harassment.”
Violence against abortion providers in America is escalating, said Calla Hales, a spokeswoman for Preferred Women’s Health Center. She breathed a sigh of relief.
“There are people being targeted, myself included, who have dealt with violence within the past year,” Hales said. “I really don’t want that to spill over into the surrounding community, our patients or my staff.”
The public property in front of the center has for years been a site where pro- and anti-abortion rights groups have held demonstrations. Twenty-six groups acquired protest permits for that part of Jones Franklin Road in 2015.
Tonya Baker Nelson, Hand of Hope’s executive director, says her group doesn’t participate in the protests and won’t allow protestors on its property. And none of Hand of Hope’s 23 staff members were listed on the protest permits, according to a News & Observer review of city records.
So Nelson was shocked by the council’s decision. Her group is considering legal recourse, she said.
“From all our research, it looked like our request fit right into the UDO (Raleigh’s development guidelines) and we were following all the rules laid out for us, step-by-step,” Nelson said.