In a closed session of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners on Thursday, Oct. 20, the board got its first look at renderings for the proposed new animal shelter – as well as some details on the shelter’s proposed design and operating procedures.

The update comes as the county attempts get City of Greensboro officials to warm up to the idea of building the animal shelter in east Greensboro. One commissioner said that, based on what was said in the closed session, that request would likely be made at the Greensboro Zoning Commission’s December meeting, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 19.

Guilford County hired PNP Design Group to make the renderings, which were done in part to help city officials see what the shelter will look like if the county builds it at a proposed site on the 3300 block of Burlington Road next to the Guilford County Agricultural Center.

County officials stress that the renderings are preliminary and that aspects of the design may change in the coming months based on feedback from the city and a review of the facility’s operational needs, but this is the first time any details of the new shelter have been revealed. The Rhino Times obtained the renderings through a public records request after they were shown to the commissioners in the closed session.

The commissioners in favor of building the shelter at the Burlington Road site in economically distressed east Greensboro have argued that the shelter would be an enhancement for the area rather than a negative as some representatives of that community have claimed.

At the Oct. 20 commissioners’ closed session, the board heard a report from Marc Isaacson, with Isaacson Isaacson Sheridan Fountain & Leftwich LLP. The county hired Isaacson earlier this year to help gain approval for the project if the county makes the request to the Greensboro Zoning Commission and later to the City Council.

According to the discussion in that closed session, current plans for the facility call for it to be roughly 25,000 square feet and cost between $8 million and $9 million.

Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said this week that the board is expected to place the county’s request on the agenda for the Zoning Commission’s December meeting.

Sources say that request would be to rezone the property to light industrial, which would allow an animal shelter. In March, Guilford County voted to make a request of the city. However, since then, the county has been lying low as they tried to get city councilmembers on board.

Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips said the proposed shelter represented in the diagram would be split into two sections: the east side, which would be largely dedicated to interaction with the public, and the west side, which would be devoted to the internal functions of the shelter. The east wing – the right side of the building when facing the front – would have an outdoor area for walking dogs and an area where visitors could interact with animals they’re considering adopting.

“That’s where volunteers would be the most active,” Phillips said of the right side.

He added that the back of the building might be used for that purpose as well.

He said the west side of the structure would house the animals, be used for animal intake by Animal Control officers, and for veterinary care as well as the shelter’s business operations – functions not related to public interaction.

Phillips said there could also eventually be some sort of connection to the Agricultural Center, which is just east of the shelter on an adjoining plot of county-owned land.

The chairman said there would be a good amount of parking on the site as planned, and he added that, if the shelter ends up on that site, there would be easy access to it from several major roads. He said that would be especially true once Greensboro’s new Urban Loop is completed. That expressway will run fairly close to the proposed Burlington Road site.

Phillips said he was impressed by the appearance of the shelter in the renderings and added that he considers the facility attractive as conceived. He also cautioned that the design could change based on input from interested parties and new information.

“There will be a lot of folks weighing in on this over the next few months,” Phillips said of the drawings and the preliminary operational plans. “I think it is a very good first pass.”

He added that some design work had already been done on the interior of the proposed building.

He also said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the city’s approval and that in the coming weeks he would like to hear feedback from the community and city officials in order to help make this a project that will benefit everyone. He said he believes that, as people hear the facts about the project, they will like it more and more. Phillips also stated that this is bigger than being a mere shelter, or just a physical structure – he said it could be holistically transformative and a major positive to the area in a number of ways.

According to Phillips, the reason it’s taken a long time to get to this point is because the board and county staff have been deliberate in this process and have been attempting to find the best way to go about it.

“It’s been about timing,” Phillips said. “We’ve been trying to figure out which rezoning process to pursue, to figure out how this facility might look and get a better grasp of where we are before we pull the trigger – if we pull the trigger.”

While he’s squarely in favor of locating the animal shelter at the Burlington Road site, he said there’s still a possibility that Guilford County will end up never even making the rezoning request of the city.

Phillips said he feels as though a dissemination of information about all the positives the shelter may bring will help dissipate some of the objections that have been voiced so far. He also said he has no desire for this to be a confrontational experience.

“I don’t have any intent on duking it out with the City Council,” Phillips said.

At the Oct. 20 closed session, the commissioners discussed many of the benefits they see of putting the shelter on a spot where there is enough property to offer related activities and programs. Some have spoken of a possible dog park near the shelter, animal-related businesses and joint efforts with NC A&T State University and perhaps Guilford Technical Community College (GTCC) and other area schools that have classes in animal science.

Several commissioners said there will be a benefit to the community around the shelter, which will perhaps act as an anchor for some new business or other attractions. The Ag Center and associated structures sit on 33 acres of county property, much of which is currently unused.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us to work together,” Phillips said. “You’ve got to think outside the box and not be so narrowly focused on what we believe an animal shelter to be.”

He also said he thought that Isaacson was a good representative of the Board of Commissioners and that he had been effective in helping guide the county through the process.

“I like his style,” Phillips said of Isaacson.

The issue is expected to end up before the Greensboro City Council no matter what the decision of the Zoning Commissioners, since those on the losing end of that decision are expected to appeal it.

It might be more desirable to residents if the shelter didn’t have animals outside the facility. That was discussed at the closed session. However, one source at the meeting said that the commissioners – including Commissioner Justin Conrad – thought that wouldn’t be feasible.

Conrad said this week that he wouldn’t talk about what went on in the closed session but he would speak generally about the county’s needs for the new shelter. He said any animal shelter would have to have an outdoor area for use with the animals. He said volunteers exercising animals, for instance, needed some outdoor space.

Conrad said he wants to hear input from the community about the plans and he hopes area residents and city officials will listen as the county makes its case for that location.

“It could be a really positive thing, and when I say that, I don’t mean positive for the county but also for the community in the area,” Conrad said.

He spoke of potentially working with the Malachi House, a faith-based residential program on the 3600 block of Burlington Road.   The program helps recovering drug addicts – and others attempting to get past major life issues – become productive citizens. Malachi House sometimes works with animals, and some commissioners said there have been heartwarming stories of transformed lives that involved an interaction between recovering addicts and animals.

Conrad said that location would be great for interaction with A&T.

“It would give students an opportunity with real-life experience,” he said.

Conrad also said that some opponents haven’t yet allowed the county to make its case, which he said he feels is a very strong one.

Guilford County officials have spoken generally about the benefits an animal shelter in that area may bring but they are hoping that, as the drawings, details and partnership plans become known, the proposal will be more palatable to opponents.

“Some people have had a ‘ready, aim, fire’ mentality,” Conrad said. “They just heard it and shot it down.”

Some advocates of the proposed site like the fact that Guilford County already owns the land, that the shelter would be next to several other county services and that there are already animal-based activities there. They also find it appealing that it is relatively central to where Guilford County Animal Control picks up most of the animals it collects.

Commissioner Coleman, who opposes putting the shelter in that spot, pointed out this week that the board – mostly the Republican majority – approved the request eight months ago but the county still hasn’t taken any action.

“I’ve been asking for two months why it’s been taking so long,” Coleman said.

One answer to her question is simple: Phillips and other commissioners have no desire to make the request until it at least has a reasonable chance of being approved by the City Council. Commissioners, with the help of Isaacson, have been attempting behind the scenes to get the city councilmembers to warm up to the idea, even though the two city councilmembers who represent that area – District 2 City Councilmember Jamal Fox and District 1 Councilmember Sharon Hightower – have been highly critical of the move. The proposed site is in Fox’s district but is just across the road from Hightower’s.

Coleman said she believes that deals are being struck with those councilmembers who are still on the fence.

“There has been a lot of horse-trading going on,” Coleman said, adding, “If it happens, that means a deal has been cut.”

The Greensboro City Council has been divided on the issue, with some members strongly opposed to it and others supporting the move – and with others saying they want more information before making a decision.

Fox and Hightower both reiterated this week that they are still highly opposed to putting the animal shelter in east Greensboro.

Fox said that he and Isaacson had talked, and Fox added that after that conversation he was as against the shelter as he has been all along – namely, dead set against it. Fox has said it was a horrible idea to put the shelter in east Greensboro and said he would fight it as hard as he could and that nothing was going to change his mind.

Hightower, likewise, also said she is still totally opposed to the proposal.

“No, I have not stepped down from my beliefs and my principals,” Hightower said.

“I’m insulted that they think a picture can change our minds,” she added. “We voice our objections and they don’t engage us? Instead, they say, ‘We are going to provide you with a picture.’ The mayor said she wanted to see a rendering – so they ran out and got a rendering?”

Hightower also said she was very disappointed in Isaacson and the way this was being handled.

She said this was not about Sharon Hightower but about the people in that area who are struggling and who want to see economic growth and jobs rather than undesirable projects like this.

“I’m here to represent the people and they do not want an animal shelter,” she said.

Hightower also said that the county already has a perfectly good location for a shelter – 4525 W. Wendover Ave. where the current shelter sits.

Interestingly, the monthly meeting of the Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice (CEEJ) that was scheduled for Monday, Oct. 24 was canceled. That meeting was supposed to be about the Animal Shelter proposal and was likely to draw a good number of citizens from the affected neighborhoods. CEEJ, founded by former District 2 City Councilmember Goldie Wells, was formed to promote the economic interests of citizens in northeast Greensboro.

The cancellation notice for that meeting said, “We had invited someone from the Guilford County Board of Commissioners to come and discuss the proposed plans for the animal shelter. We were unable to get a representative to come. The county manager wants to have a meeting with some citizens who live in northeast Greensboro.” The notice added that hopefully that will happen in the coming weeks.

Phillips said he was invited to that meeting but declined since he had another commitment that night.

“However, I did speak to Dr. Wells last week and asked if I could meet with her soon,” Phillips said. “She seemed agreeable and indicated she would get back in touch soon.”

Coleman said she wished someone had told her that the county had already gotten renderings. She said that was done largely because Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan made the request.

“They said the mayor has asked for a rendering,” Coleman said.

Coleman also said that, when she asked why the board hadn’t voted – or even informed her that the county was having the renderings made – the response was that the renderings had cost the county $3,000 and that was an amount that staff could spend on the project without needing the approval of the Board of Commissioners.

Coleman said the Republican majority makes the argument that this will be a positive but they wouldn’t want it near their homes.

“They would never put it in Irving Park,” Coleman said. “They would never put it where Marc’s parents live. They would say, ‘No, it’s not going there.’”

While Coleman is critical of putting the facility at the Burlington Road location, the majority of county commissioners think it’s an ideal spot, or as close to an ideal spot as the county is going to find.

One consideration is the fact that the county’s Ag Center is already on that block. Former Guilford County Property Management Director David Grantham emphasized that point earlier this year when he said of the Burlington Road site, “It already smells – it’s a barnyard.”

Grantham said at that time that the Ag Center has 4-H club activities, pigs, cows, horses, goat shows and “piles of manure.”

Also, People & Paws 4 Hope, a program that connects kids with dogs in order to help the children learn reading and other skills, is already on the same land.

Some opponents of the shelter argue that it would hinder growth in that part of east Greensboro. However, Phillips often points out that there was a shelter near the Wendover/I-40 interchange before that land was developed, and it certainly didn’t stifle economic development there. That is now one of the most developed sections of Guilford County.