Concerns mount over facility for homeless veterans

SPENCER — Spencer officials and residents are expressing concern not only for the neighborhood where a halfway house for homeless veterans was planned but for the veterans themselves.

Alderman Reid Walters called the proposal to place 28 homeless veterans, including some suffering from mental illness and substance abuse, in a 3,500-square-foot home at 418 S. Carolina Ave. “inhumane.”

“It really hit me hard that even something like that was floated,” Walters said Tuesday.

Many residents came to the town board meeting to complain about a nonprofit foundation’s plan to run a 24-hour, supervised facility for homeless veterans in the town’s historic district. Neighbors say they did not know about the facility until guns rang out Feb. 4 during a rifle salute at the ribbon cutting.

Aldermen said they also did not know about the facility until they read about it in the Post.

Rowan County sold the house at 418 S. Carolina Ave. to the Col. Abram Penn Veterans Foundation for $50,000, which will be financed by the county over nine years. Some residents raised concerns about the sale price and loan arrangement.

The town last week revoked the zoning permit for the veterans home last week after a town employee discovered that the house stands less than a mile from an assisted living facility at 120 10th St. Aldermen said Tuesday they will not amend the town’s ordinance to allow the veterans home, despite a request from Rowan County Commissioner Jon Barber.

Barber and Dr. Tim Heath, the foundation chairman, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Mayor Jody Everhart, the only town official who attended the ribbon cutting, said he was concerned about the facility, including housing mentally ill veterans in a densely populated neighborhood and placing so many veterans in a single-family home.

“It’s hard for 28 of the same family to go on vacation together, much less live together,” he said.

N.C. Rep. Harry Warren, a Republican who represents Rowan County, said he has been surprised by the situation. Warren attended the ribbon cutting by invitation but said that was the extent of his involvement.

When he first heard about plans for the facility, Warren said he thought it was a good idea and nice that someone was trying to help homeless veterans.

“Lord knows as a country and state, we don’t do enough for veterans,” Warren said.

While touring the property, which has not been renovated yet, Warren said he was amazed by the number of rooms in the house.

“But I still did not see how you were going to fit 28 in there,” he said.

Warren said he was “completely taken by surprise” that the town had issued the permit in error and that the facility was in violation of town code. He said he was even more stunned that residents did not know about the facility.

“Maybe county commissioners can find another home for these veterans,” Warren said.

Neighbor Greg Oswald said many people have tried to buy the house from the county over the years but “got the run around” and were told they would have to pay more than $100,000 for the property.

The county sold the house to Heath’s foundation for half that. The tax value is $143,311.

In his summary of the debacle, Spencer land management services director Price Wagoner wrote:

“The town of Spencer issued a zoning permit to Tim Heath for a supervised living facility ... All applications for permit have to be accompanied by a map showing the nearest existing supervised living facility, with certification that the proposed facility will be located no closer than one mile to the next nearest facility.

“During the permit inquiry, we were advised that the residence would be used to house homeless disabled veterans who may be suffering from mental or physical disabilities, with either part-time or full-time staff being provided. ... The number of residents to be housed was stated to be 10 or less.

“During the permitting process, staff received information that there were no supervised living facilities within one mile of the parcel. Upon review of the information that has been brought to light and reviewing the original permit application, and there is in fact another supervised living facility located at 120 10th St., which is located within one mile of this location. The zoning permit has therefore been determined to be issued in error and has now been revoked.”

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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