The Board of Aldermen voted 7-0 to amend their rules for a possible community kitchen downtown at a meeting Tuesday night where most of the critics stayed away.
The aldermen stressed their action does not clear the way for the Inter-Faith Council to begin serving meals at the agency’s 110 W. Main St. location.
Instead the change to the town’s ordinance, approved after three and a half hours of public comment at Carrboro Elementary School, means that such a use is no longer prohibited.
The audience at the much-anticipated meeting was one-sided.
LeAnn Brown, attorney for the IFC, was among the first speakers. She asked those in the crowd who were IFC staff, board members and volunteers to raise their hands. Nearly the entire audience did.
“We want to approach this the ‘Carrboro Way,’” Brown told the aldermen. “We ask that you approve this use to allow the IFC to present its vision for the project.”
But even before the meeting began, Alderwomen Jacquie Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell expressed disappointment that among the more than 300 people at the hearing, they saw none of the business owners they’d been hearing from.
“The IFC is well organized and it’s great that you all have come out, but I don’t see many from our business community,” said Gist. “Some have been threatened with boycotts. Their livelihoods are threatened.”
Along with Mayor Lydia Lavelle, Gist encouraged the speakers not to vilify those with opposing views.
“Let’s not ‘Trumpify’ this situation,” she said. “Let’s remain friends.”
Many of the speakers repeated the same message: the town should support the challenge of feeding the hungry because it fits with their values of compassion and the need for a community to support those who are struggling.
Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, said town rules should allow a kitchen but Main Street is not a good location.
“We have to feed the hungry. We must,” he said. “Quite candidly I don't think we'll solve this problem by relocating one facility to another place. That’s not enough.”
“While a formal and official position of the chamber is that we don't think that this use is appropriate for the central business district, and particularly don’t think so until we put together needed infrastructure to help manage some of the off-site impacts, I do want to be clear that we don't think it’s an inappropriate use for Carrboro,” Nelson continued. “Chapel Hill has this use. Asheville has this use. Boone has this use and it's completely appropriate also for Carrboro.”
Former mayor and state Sen. Ellie Kinnaird took to the podium to put forward some of the questions that any future IFC proposal will have to answer. “Where are those who eat at the kitchen going to go afterwards?” she said, especially when the university is not in session and on the weekends when bus service is reduced, but hunger is not.
Former Alderman Braxton Foushee said that he was disappointed in the lack of opposition voices. “I’m saddened that those opposing are not here as we are, because that’s the Carrboro way,” he said.
The IFC wants to move its community kitchen from 100 W. Rosemary St. in downtown Chapel Hill in order to combine its kitchen with the food pantry it already operates in the downtown Carrboro building.
Finding a separate location for the kitchen would be a waste of precious resources said Robert Seymour, an honorary lifetime board member of the IFC.
“It’s going to be very hard if we are asked to have two locations, one for the pantry and one for the kitchen,” he told the aldermen. “Let’s be good stewards of our resources and find a place where we can be together under the same roof.”
With the text amendment approved, the IFC can now apply for a conditional use permit, a process involving advisory board reviews, more public hearings and community meetings. Eventual approval, if granted, could be as much as a year away.
The only change the aldemen made to the proposed language of the amendment was to remove a provisions requiring security cameras to be installed.
Some speakers and the aldermen agreed that the cameras sent a stigmatizing message and were not required of restaurants and bars, which are not immune from bad behavior by customers.