By Alexandria Sands
The Southport Board of Aldermen voted during their Thursday, July 9, to allow transitional housing facilities in the city’s office and institutional zoning.
Nonprofit Brunswick Partnership for Housing (BPH) requested the amendment to the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) so it could pursue plans to establish temporary living spaces in an East 11th Street building it is under contract to purchase from Dosher Memorial Hospital. Until now, there was no language in the UDO that would allow for BPH’s facility. The board unanimously agreed to add a definition and supplemental regulations for transitional housing and incorporate language which clarifies it “shall not include emergency overnight shelters.”
Transitional housing is now listed in the document but requires a conditional use permit on which the planning board and board of adjustment could place limitations. “We’re also very supportive of the conditional permitting clause,” said Sally Learned, chair of BPH. “While it takes longer to go through – and I will admit we are on a deadline with a contract for sale – we believe that additional layer of review by the board of adjustment protects the community as well as helps the program present a full spectrum of safeguards.” Leaders of BPH spoke of the organization and the community’s need for transitional housing during the public hearing held prior to the board’s vote. Secretary of BPH Becky Felton told stories of a displaced individual and family she helped in Southport, and Learned shared a statistic that the number of homeless children in Brunswick County Schools grew by 50% in three years.
From residents of East 11th Street, the aldermen heard both support and pushback. “It’s a matter of location,” said Cliff Pender, of 11th Street. “I personally do not feel that in the town limits is an appropriate place for transitional housing. The concept of buffering transitional housing from residential is impossible in Southport.”
Dawn Coleman, also of 11th Street, urged the organization to consider alternate spots. “What if one out of 100 people you put in that place is the one person who goes over and decides they need drugs or they need the money and they go to our most defenseless citizens at the nursing home or at Brunswick Village?” said Coleman. Pender argued the UDO is not intended to accommodate any organization. “At no point you see the name of a specific entity or organization in the UDO,” Pender said. City Attorney Michael Isenberg reiterated to the board members they were voting on a text amendment and not approval of BPH’s project.
“Your decision is basically on is there a need for transitional housing in the City of Southport and is the office/institutional zone the proper zone in which to place it,” Isenberg explained. Still, several residents took the podium to support BPH’s mission to establish transitional housing just doors down from their properties. “I’m very much in favor of this project,” said Gary Pethe, 11th Street resident. “I lived in another neighborhood for a long time with a very similar type of facility in it. I’m happy to report there were no problems whatsoever.”
Due to COVID-19, the board also accepted public comments through email; one couple wrote of concerns and two others expressed favor of transitional housing, specifically BPH. “What I love and support about a program like this is that it is a hand up, not a handout,” wrote Sue Mills.
With the text amendment passed, BPH can now apply for a permit for its project and at that point there will be another hearing. The organization intends to renovate the building into an office with meeting space, an apartment for families, and a temporary residence for patients who are discharged from hospitals without a safe place to go.