Board members also vote unanimously to approve text amendment to City of Cartersville ordinance

Planning commission recommends special-use permit for Townsley Drive homeless shelter

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The Cartersville Planning Commission, absent members Lamar Pendley and Harrison Dean, voted unanimously to recommend approval of a text amendment to the City of Cartersville Code of Ordinances, which would allow “homeless shelters” as an acceptable use in the municipality’s multiple-use (M-U) zoned districts, at Tuesday evening’s public meeting.

Applicant Homeless Shelter Action Committee Inc. — the operators of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter on Porter Street — seeks to open another shelter at 3 Townsley Drive, which is currently zoned M-U.

“Currently, our ordinance allows homeless shelters in the general-commercial and office-commercial with a special-use permit,” said City of Cartersville Director of Planning and Development Randy Mannino. “The applicant is looking to add it to the M-U — M-U is actually very similar to the G-C and O-C zoning categories.”

Nathan Sanders, lead pastor of LifePoint Church and a member of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter Board of Directors, spoke in favor of the proposed text amendment.

“At the end of the day there is just a desperate need for additional emergency shelter beds in our community,” he said. “We feel that adding ‘homeless shelter’ … is more than reasonable, given that many other similar uses are also permitted.”

Among the uses currently allowed in the City’s M-U districts, Sanders noted, include group homes, guest houses, nursing homes and community center buildings. 

Tony Rodgers, owner of Tony Rodgers Insurance Group, LLC — which, essentially, is across the street from the proposed homeless shelter — told the commission he was opposed to the text amendment proposal.

“The homeless shelters, I think, were specifically left out of the language for multi-use because it is very different in nature, because of the crowds that it tends to attract,” he said. “The homeless shelters are known for contributing to negative impacts on the communities that they’re put in — an increase in crime, the devaluing of neighboring properties.”

At that point, Cartersville Planning Commission Chairman Lamar Pinson asked Rodgers if he had any documents backing up his statements.

“No, I do not have that,” Rodgers told the commission. “Yes, it is my opinion, but I think it is widely supported throughout the country with other documentation, but I do not have that with me.”

Commission board member Jeffrey Ross asked Mannino if the City was aware of any “issues” with the shelter on Porter Street.

“I’m not aware of any,” Mannino responded. “But I will check police reports prior to the next city council meeting. From a code enforcement standpoint, we haven’t received any complaints.”

After the board voted to recommend approval of the text amendment, the commission likewise unanimously approved a special use permit application from Homeless Shelter Action Committee, Inc. to open a homeless shelter at the Townsley Drive property. 

Sanders said the shelter would provide 14 beds immediately, with a possibility of adding six more “in the near future.”

“We will have 24-hour staff present on location, so that will always be the case, and we will not allow loitering, excessive noise, drugs, alcohol or any type of illegal activity around this facility,” he said. “This is not a place where people just come and sit — they are required to look for employment, and ultimately find a job where they’re working at least 32 hours a week.”

Since so few guests tend to own vehicles, Sanders said he doesn’t expect parking to present any challenges at the proposed Townsley Drive shelter. Guests who do own cars, he said, will be asked to park in the rear of the property.

Cami James, a program manager for Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, also took to the podium to discuss the shelter’s policies. She said no violent offenders are allowed in the 10-week program, and that all guests must pass drug and/or alcohol screenings. Curfew at the Townsley Drive facility, she said, would be 7 p.m. for guests, while visitors would not be allowed on the premises after 5 p.m. — with exclusions for certain religious activities.

Justin Blocker, a resident along Townsley Drive, asked the commission if the shelter would impact neighboring property values, adding that he also had concerns about drug deals transpiring on the street. 

“Property values change all the time for a whole bunch of factors,” City of Cartersville Attorney Keith Lovell replied. “Whether this would be a factor or not, this board doesn’t know.”

On the subject of “pre-existing drug use in the area,” Lovell suggested Blocker contact the local police the next time he suspects such activity is going on in the vicinity.

The Cartersville City Council is scheduled to hear a first reading of both the text amendment and the special-use permit application at a public meeting slated for 7 p.m. at 10 North Public Square on July 18. A second reading — and a subsequent council vote on both items — is expected to take place Aug. 1 at the same time and location.