In 1959, Hollywood released Plan 9 from Outer Space, and, in 2016, Guilford County government may be forced to release “Plan B for the New Animal Shelter.”
Plan A for the new shelter was what the majority of the Board of Commissioners were hoping to watch unfold this year. However, a Tuesday, June 21 Greensboro City Council meeting offered some strong indications that Guilford County’s Plan A for the shelter wasn’t exactly a big hit in the eyes of the City Council, and that plan may therefore never see the light of day – forget widespread theatrical release.
Specifically, the Guilford County commissioners’ plan for the new Guilford County animal shelter calls for the county to construct a new shelter at 3307 Burlington Road in east Greensboro on county-owned land next to the Guilford County Agricultural Center. The Board of Commissioners voted 6 to 3 at a May 5 work session to request a special-use permit from the City of Greensboro to allow the proposed new shelter to be built in that part of east Greensboro. That vote by the commissioners split straight down along racial lines, with all three black commissioners voting against the request.
Yet more evidence that the issue was a racial one could be seen from the fact that two black Greensboro city councilmembers – Jamal Fox and Sharon Hightower, were the most highly vocal opponents of putting the shelter at that site
Ever since the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to make the request, Fox, who represents that area of the city, has spoken out in forceful terms about his adamant opposition to the move, and it has become even more clear in recent weeks that the Greensboro City Council has a lot of questions about the wisdom of Guilford County building its new shelter at the Burlington Road site.
Fox said this week that the City Council certainly was not in favor of putting an animal shelter at the Ag Center site, where, he said, it would be a detriment to the community because of the smell, noise, traffic and other considerations. He said he was sure the council would reject Guilford County’s request.
When Fox was asked how he could be so certain the county’s request would be denied, he responded, “Because I can count.”
Specifically, Fox meant that he can count to five, which is the number of City Council votes needed to approve a special-use permit request – or needed to approve just about anything else the City Council does for that matter.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips has been working behind the scenes to convince council members to warm up to the idea of a shelter on Burlington Road, and, though he didn’t wish to comment on those discussions while they were underway, Phillips did say in May that he hoped reason would ultimately sway the city officials.
Some city councilmembers have been critical of that fact that Phillips or other representatives from the county didn’t contact them about the move before the commissioners voted to make the request. Phillips and other commissioners say that, until there was an official agreement and supporting vote by a majority of the commissioners, there was no county action to talk about. In other words, the vote and the special-use permit request were the way to start the conversation.
In May, Phillips wrote in an email, “I’m confident that, if the facts are thoughtfully considered, the majority of Greensboro’s City Council members will agree that we’ve made the best decision. If I’m wrong, we’ll go to plan B, which will, unfortunately, cost our citizens significantly more money and cause further delays in getting the animals in our care the kind of facility that Guilford County needs and deserves.”
Though the commissioners voted in May to make the request, it’s now July and Guilford County staff still seems nowhere close to presenting that request to the city, which may be an indication that county officials don’t believe they have the votes they need from the Greensboro City Council for approval.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne said the commissioners’ early May motion did instruct staff to move forward with the request but put no deadline on the move.
“There is no time requirement on the motion,” Payne said, adding that some “prep work” is generally necessary with this type of request.
In this case, the necessary prep work no doubt includes getting the city officials on board before the City Council has a discussion and a vote on the matter.
With the new animal shelter seen as a high-priority project for Guilford County – the newly adopted 2016-2017 county budget makes that clear – the commissioners and county staff are now beginning to entertain Plan B.
Guilford County Facilities, Parks and Property Management Director Robert McNiece said that, months ago when his department reviewed county property holdings to find those that could be used as a site for the new shelter, the Burlington Road location was the only one where the county owned enough land to build a new shelter in a location that was in any way central. The county does own, for instance, a large enough large tract of land where the now demolished Evergreens’ retirement home in High Point once stood. However, that land in the southwest part of Guilford County is considered too far away from the center of the county to be of use for the shelter. East Greensboro isn’t really central to the county either, but advocates for the site say that that area is where most of the animals are picked up by Animal Control.
Guilford County has also been looking at land that could be purchased for the purpose – six or more acres with good road access in a place convenient for most county residents to reach – though several commissioners aren’t keen, to say the least, on spending new money to buy land for the project that could already run between $6 million and $8 million.
Commissioner Alan Branson, who favors the Ag Center site, said he wants to see the county get the “best bang for the buck.”
Any new land Guilford County buys in the City of Greensboro – which includes most of the area the county finds desirable for a new shelter – could see similar zoning challenges from the Greensboro City Council or from residents who don’t want a shelter in their community any more than those who live near the Ag Center.
Given that there are no other viable county-owned sites and there is a desire of many commissioners not to purchase new land and increase the project cost, one option that seems to be more attractive on a daily basis – a plan that’s been touted far and wide by Commissioners Carolyn Coleman and Ray Trapp – is to leave the shelter right where it is: at 4525 W. Wendover Ave. in a central part of the county right between Greensboro and High Point.
At commissioner work sessions this year, Coleman has stressed over and over again her desire to see the new shelter on the site of the existing shelter, and Trapp said this week that that’s clearly the correct call.
Trapp, who pointed out that he’s a big advocate for the shelter who currently has a puppy that came from there, said it’s just common sense that the best spot for the shelter is “where it is right now.”
He said that, unlike the site next to the Agricultural Center, the current animal shelter site provides good access to High Point – the county’s second largest population center. High Point runs its own Animal Control services, but most of the animals collected in High Point are taken to the Guilford County shelter, and High Point residents use the Guilford County shelter when they want to adopt.
“That location is perfect for it,” Trapp said of the West Wendover address. “There’s a light there and it’s called Animal Shelter Drive, where else would be more perfect than on Animal Shelter Drive?”
He added that the Humane Society of the Piedmont was also on that site and that it’s much easier to get to from High Point than a new shelter on Burlington Road would be.
“Frankly, I’m surprised folks from the High Point area aren’t complaining more about the shelter moving 20 minutes further east,” Trapp said.
Trapp also said the City of Greensboro conducted long-term strategic planning for the Burlington Road area years ago and said nowhere do those plans call for an animal shelter.
“That area is a reinvestment corridor – the city has plans for that area,” Trapp said.
Building a new shelter on the site of the existing shelter, reportedly presents some logistical challenges – including answering the question of what to do with the animals that the county has in its care while the new shelter is being built. Advocates of the move say that problems could be solved by building the new shelter in stages – while the old shelter continues to operate – or by finding other solutions that may take a little thought and creativity, but not necessarily a lot of money.
Commissioner Alan Perdue said he has another concern about that property. Perdue, who was the director of Guilford County Emergency Services before becoming a commissioner, points out the tremendous traffic problem in that area of the existing shelter – near Bridford Parkway and surrounded by hundreds of popular big box stores, restaurants and other businesses – and says that’s a major drawback to using that location for a new shelter. One of the goals of the shelter is easy access and being stuck in traffic coming or going to the shelter could mean many lost hours and big headaches for citizens, shelter staff and Animal Control officers.
Commissioner Justin Conrad said he wants taxpayers to avoid having to shell out more county money for land, on top of the steep price tag already on the project.
“Buying property in another location is not the fiscally responsible thing to do,” Conrad said.
He said that if the city doesn’t allow the county to use the Burlington Road land he would lean toward building a new shelter on the West Wendover site.
“I would probably say leave it where it is and we could figure out a way to make that work,” Conrad said.
One possibility that has not really been discussed at length is that the county could sell off the property next to the Ag Center site to help pay the cost of building the shelter at another site. However, one downside to that is that the county has held on to the property for years with plans of eventually using it for various governmental purposes.
As the commissioners start to turn toward exploring other options, Phillips said he has been discussing the special-use permit request with city officials and he also doesn’t know when the request for the special-use permit will be submitted to the city.
One factor that is also at play right now is that, seemingly, in July or early August, every elected official in Greensboro and Guilford County is at the beach, so those discussions are unlikely to move forward much in the next month unless the city councilmembers happen to run into each other at a seafood restaurant in Atlantic Beach or in Calabash.