The discussion over the location of the Guilford County Animal Shelter has gotten a lot more interesting lately.
Some opponents of the proposed site on the 3300 block of Burlington Road, next to the Guilford County Agricultural Center, have suggested an alternative site in east Greensboro on a different block of Burlington Road, while others say the shelter needs to stay out of east Greensboro entirely. Community leaders in that area are also criticizing the commissioners for their desire to invest $9 million in an animal shelter, while in 2015 they rejected a request by east Greensboro advocates for $250,000 to help establish a co-op grocery store in that same part of town.
The Republican county commissioners, meanwhile, are getting tired of all the criticism – which they see as unfounded – and are exploring shelter site options in other parts of the county.
At a Guilford County Animal Services Board meeting on Thursday, Nov. 10, Commissioner Justin Conrad, the chairman of that board, said he didn’t want the commissioners to get into a bitter fight with a community over something that he believes would be a big economic development opportunity for east Greensboro. Conrad said that if those citizens don’t want the shelter, other parts of the county will.
At the Nov. 10 meeting, Conrad updated the Animal Services Board on the latest discussions.
“There has been some communication with some neighborhood groups,” he said, explaining that he and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips had discussed the site next to the Ag Center with east Greensboro community leaders.
“There is, as everyone knows, some hesitation – and maybe you can even say reluctance – to a shelter on that site,” Conrad told the board. “I think some of the information we were able to present may or may not change some minds. We don’t know. But we did have some conversations with several community groups. So it’s not like the outreach hasn’t been made.”
Conrad then explained his view on why the county shouldn’t fight the community on the matter. Putting the shelter next to the Ag Center would require a rezoning by the Greensboro City Council and there’s some strong opposition on that board.
“At the end of the day,” Conrad said, “I’ve been very clear in some of my comments, as has chairman Phillips. I’m not going to fight a neighborhood that is adamantly opposed to a shelter going into that area because, quite honestly, what we’re looking to do I see as a benefit. I see it as a benefit to any area it’s built in, and I’m not going to fight someone when I think other places might well want this type of facility.”
Conrad added that the community groups in east Greensboro now have copies of renderings of the shelter as well as other information.
“They are supposed to take that back to their constituencies and report back to us,” he said. “As of yet, we haven’t heard back.”
The conversations the commissioners are now having might have gone a lot smoother if the board had had them before, rather than after, voting to request a special-use permit to build the shelter at the site. The Board of Commissioners voted earlier this year to move forward with that request without consulting Greensboro city councilmembers or affected neighborhood residents – and many opponents now state that they were greatly irritated by the fact that they are being consulted now but were not at the start of the process.
One leader Phillips and Conrad spoke to was Bob Davis, the president of Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro (CCNEG).
Davis said this week that he had taken the renderings and other information provided by the two commissioners, presented that to members of CCNEG, and the verdict from those citizens was a resounding no.
“We don’t want a shelter there,” Davis said of the spot next to the Ag Center. “We want retail. Right now there’s a liquor store, a girlie club and a curb market.”
Davis said the citizen’s didn’t want an animal shelter, which they see as a negative. Instead, he said, they want shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.
Davis said that, when he met with Phillips and Conrad, he had suggested another Burlington Road location, an old warehouse property that’s already zoned for a shelter.
“That place is up for sale; we suggested that,” Davis said.
One problem with that idea is that some opponents – including Greensboro City Councilmember Sharon Hightower – are opposed to putting the shelter anywhere in east Greensboro, including where Davis suggested.
Davis said he didn’t buy the arguments made by the two commissioners.
“Jeff and Justin try to pass it off as economic development,” he said, adding that they told him it would bring in high-income visitors to that area.
The commissioners have argued many times that a shelter in that area would bring traffic and could lead to economic development. Davis said shelter clients will come in, drop off animals or pick them up and then turn around and head straight back to the highway without engaging in east Greensboro or using a business there. He said Conrad and Phillips couldn’t promise specific growth around the shelter.
“I wanted to know if they could assure us of economic development,” Davis said.
He said it might be a different story if the Guilford County commissioners could promise the residents that a major developer such as Roy Carroll or Marty Kotis would commit to new development if the shelter went there.
“Then maybe we could cut a deal,” Davis said.
He said the county commissioners didn’t do themselves any favors when they voted down a request to fund a co-op grocery store at Renaissance Plaza in east Greensboro.
Hightower, who also referred to the commissioners’ decision not to fund the co-op, said she didn’t believe there should be an animal shelter anywhere in east Greensboro – even on the sight Davis suggested to the county.
Hightower pointed to the county’s decision not to contribute anything for the Renaissance Plaza grocery store in east Greensboro as a sign that they do not have east Greensboro’s best interests in mind.
“They have $8 million for animals but they do not want to part with $250,000 for the co-op for people,” she said.
One county official said the fact that the co-op opened and is in operation with no county funding suggests that the co-op didn’t need that county money.
Hightower said she considers it a lack of respect that the commissioners didn’t meet with the community members and instead met with just the leaders. Hightower said the commissioners were invited to speak at a community meeting several weeks ago but no commissioner took the group up on the offer and that meeting was canceled. She also said the commissioners hadn’t discussed the matter with her at all.
Goldie Wells, a long-time east Greensboro activist who’s the president of Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice (CEEJ), said her community group doesn’t meet until later this month but she’s not expecting them to go for an animal shelter in the county’s desired location.
Wells also brought up the $250,000 request for Renaissance Plaza co-op, money that the commissioners didn’t grant.
“We didn’t get any assistance from them and now they want to put an $8 million animal shelter there,” she said.
“We told them, they have some land further down,” Well said of the warehouse property Davis suggested.
She said the fact that the county would have to get a special-use permit to build the shelter next to the Ag Center is an indication that at some point in the past zoning officials felt there was good reason to prevent an animal shelter from being built on the site.
“I understand a hospital could be built there,” Wells said.
She said nothing she heard from the two commissioners convinced her that a shelter in that spot was a good idea.
“I wanted to talk to them to let them show us what was so great and why they want to put it there,” Wells said, adding that one factor the commissioners cited was that many of the animal control calls came from the surrounding area.
“We want places where we can shop retail,” Wells said.
She said there had been similar promises of growth when two schools were built in east Greensboro. She said that economic development never happened.
Wells also said that Phillips and Conrad expressed concern that the citizens of east Greensboro would regret it down the road if they let the shelter opportunity get away.
“They say, ‘You’ll miss it in hindsight,’ and say that we’ll say, ‘We could have had that,’” she said. “We feel like we have enough trash, we want to have some of the treasure. It might be a beautiful building, but I didn’t see the commitment to economic development.”
Phillips said this week that Guilford County is now exploring other possible locations for the shelter and he said it’s too bad that the reaction has been negative from east Greensboro representatives because he truly feels a shelter would be an economic driver there. He said he felt like other places in the county would want the project and said he really tried to stress to Wells that she and other east Greensboro residents should be certain they did not want to shelter before rejecting it.
“I told her to be sure that you’re sure,” Phillips said.
He said this will be a new, well-designed and well-run facility that would bring in people from around the county and if residents and representatives of east Greensboro didn’t want it then he wasn’t going to attempt to force it on them.
“It is certainly not my intention to get in a battle with the community and duke it out,” Phillips said.
He said maybe the county could find a way to push a rezoning request through the City Council but there was no will among the commissioners to do that since this should be a positive experience for all involved and there are plenty of other places where the shelter can be built.
“You have to pick your battles,” Phillips said.
He also said he hopes Wells, Davis and others aren’t passing up a real opportunity because they are displeased about the fact that the county commissioners didn’t fund the Renaissance Plaza co-op.
Commissioner Hank Henning said it makes no sense for residents to reject the shelter on the basis that Board of Commissioners failed to fund the Renaissance Plaza co-op.
Henning also said he has no problem whatsoever with not putting the shelter next to the Ag Center.
“All along I’ve felt, I would like it to remain closer to the people I represented,” said the commissioner who represents many residents of High Point and southwest Guilford County. “I’m not tied to anything.”
Henning also said there is more and more reluctance to build the new shelter on the site of the existing one at 4525 W. Wendover Ave.
“I know it is very expensive to rebuild it where it is,” Henning said, adding that even staff was having trouble figuring out the best spot for the shelter given all the considerations.
“My personal preference is that I’d like to keep it as close to my constituents as possible,” he said. “If people want to say that I’m looking out for my constituents, well, they’re right – that is what I’m doing.”
Commissioner Alan Branson said the shelter project can be put somewhere else if east Greensboro doesn’t want it.
“I don’t think it’s worth fighting with the community,” Branson said.
Conrad said this week that it’s still possible some east Greensboro residents who have yet to weigh in could come back and say they want the shelter in their area, but he added that it doesn’t seem likely.
“I do think that’s a mistake,” he said.
Democratic Commissioners Ray Trapp and Carolyn Coleman have been opposed to putting the shelter in east Greensboro from the start, while the Republican majority on the Board of Commissioners, along with Democratic Commissioner Kay Cashion, have already voted to request a special-use permit from Greensboro that would allow the shelter to be built there.
Conrad reiterated that he doesn’t want to fight for the site.
“No, I am not going to fight them to put in what is an asset,” Conrad said. “It’s not worth it.”
He also said it’s a shame because at the end of the day east Greensboro needs development and that means they need more people passing through. Conrad, who once ran his family’s Libby Hill Seafood restaurant chain, said he knows from that business how important it is to have traffic for restaurants and other businesses to thrive.
“Unless you have the traffic, you’re not going to get the economic development,” Conrad said.