Inter-Faith Council for Social Services officials met this week with business owners and neighbors of a potential FoodFirst pantry and kitchen site at 303 Jones Ferry Road.
The agency’s board of directors also discussed the site and authorized another $5,000 to hold it for one more month, executive director Michael Reinke said.
The board had several questions, he said, including how a stream through the 1.3-acre site might affect plans for the FoodFirst center, where the entrance and exit might be and what the maintenance costs would be for that site compared with a proposed center at 110 W. Main St., where the agency’s existing offices are located.
The proposed center, which has run into opposition from some businesses and residents, could replace those offices and the IFC food pantry. The current Community Kitchen is located at 100 W. Rosemary St. in downtown Chapel Hill.
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The board is expected to make a decision about 303 Jones Ferry Road by June 15, he said; an official plan could be submitted later this year.
Meanwhile, IFC officials plan to meet again June 6 with the Jones Ferry Road site’s neighbors, Reinke said. Neighborhood meetings held this week were relatively positive, he said, although there were concerns.
Neighbors asked about security and how the IFC would keep people from wandering into the neighborhood, he said, but they also seemed to like having the driveways on Jones Ferry Road and the buffer that the stream and an adjacent, wooded lot would provide.
“The same person who said he was concerned about security issues also said they really appreciated that we weren’t just coming in saying, oh, we’re going to do this,” Reinke said, “but that we were asking the neighborhood ahead of time.”
Carr Mill Mall property manager Nathan Milian said business owners he talked with favor the Jones Ferry Road site. It offers better access for delivery trucks than West Main Street, he said, and also makes better economic sense. The IFC could stay in place until a new center opens, he said, and then sell its existing headquarters to a business that could generate more tax revenue.
“We’re very happy that the IFC is seriously looking at this alternative site, and we hope that they will continue to pursue it,” Milian said. “We’ve offered to help in whatever ways we can – financially, whatever – for an alternative site.”
The Board of Aldermen would have to rezone 303 Jones Ferry Road, which currently allows light manufacturing. It is not one of three zones approved in March for social service providers with dining facilities.
Reinke confirmed two approved zones – R-20, which covers residential neighborhoods, and RR, which lies north of town and lacks public transit – would not work for a FoodFirst center. The third zone – B1(g) – includes the current IFC building and other West Main Street commercial lots.
Aldermen Sammy Slade and Bethany Chaney said Reinke asked them how quickly a Jones Ferry Road project, if submitted, could advance to the permitting process. The timing and potential for rezoning the land could affect the IFC’s decision about moving forward, the aldermen said Tuesday.
Alderwoman Jacquie Gist, speaking for “hundreds of members of our community,” said the board owes everyone the benefit of a community meeting as soon as an IFC proposal is submitted to iron out differences and address any concerns. The discussion has to be open and non-threatening, she said.
“Please address it that way, because (otherwise) you do great damage to our community’s fabric,” Gist said. “You can make people be quiet, and you can make them go away and go with what you want, but that doesn’t mean that it’s creating community, so please let’s handle it up front this time.”
The IFC is committed to a community conversation, Reinke said.