City tables ordinance amendment

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Jan. 22—HENDERSON — City council members escaped the blistering-hot, 47-degree weather on Monday and held a called meeting.

Kerr Lake Regional Water System Director Christy Lipscomb joked that Monday's weather felt like a heat wave compared to that of previous days.

Council members held a public hearing on a zoning text amendment that would allow hospitals and sanatoriums to be built with a special use permit in the B2A district, scattered areas on Dabney Drive near exit 213 of I-85, Norlina Road and Raleigh Road, among others.

Vaya Health requested the amendment. The mental healthcare provider has been eyeing 1735 Dabney Drive, a building adjacent to Tractor Supply, as the location of its diversion center since at least mid-2022, when the county sold Vaya's other pick, the old Department of Social Services building on Ruin Creek Road, to the YMCA.

City Attorney Rix Edwards pointed out that the request was not specific to Vaya — it would be a change that could have unforeseen consequences, in other words.

Sam Seifert questioned whether the amendment was a slippery slope. Development Services Director Corey Williams pointed out that the Planning Board and Planning Committee had put requirements on the ordinance that allowed motorsports facilities, such as designating how close they can be built to residential areas, so the council does have some legislative tools.

"We do know that these services are needed in our community," said Mayor Melissa Elliott. Henderson has a population of people suffering from substance use disorders and other mental health issues. The diversion center would, as the name implies, divert patients undergoing a mental health crisis or who need detox from Maria Parham's emergency room or local law enforcement agencies, freeing up beds, doctors and cops.

She asked the council to "put some things in place" to strengthen the "loose" amendment.

Eliott Clark, a representative from Vaya Health, spoke in favor of the amendment. Henderson is a central location, he said. The lot on Dabney is both near Maria Parham and easily visible from a major thoroughfare. Those traits, and the fact that it is affordable, according to the figure of $4.6 million floated in November to upfit, make it a rarity, Clark explained. Though not a very walkable area, most patients going to a diversion center are driven there, he said.

Construction would take a year and a half.

Vance County Board of Commissioners Chair Dan Brummitt, who also sits on Vaya's Board of Directors, reiterated the need for the facility. Around 70% of people arrested have mental health or substance use disorders, he said. Putting the center in a visible place is meant to reduce the stigma associated with mental healthcare, he said.

Michael Venable proposed sending the amendment back to the Planning Board to get some restrictions put in. Seifert seconded.

"We need this for sure," said Seifert. "My only hesitation, with the limited information I have and what I know about the specific location, is that it's right in the middle of retail space here in the city."

Chik-fil-A, Tractor Supply, a produce vendor and several other businesses would call the diversion center their neighbor.

"I'd just like to see some more potential options," said Seifert, "as opposed to a highly visible retail area that is right off our interstate for which we have to make a legislative decision that could have ripple effects that we just don't know about at the moment."

Ola Thorpe-Cooper made a motion to "park it as a car," in Elliott's words. Geraldine Champion seconded. The council unanimously voted to send back the amendment.

The council members also voted to approve a rezoning of around 38 acres north of the Carey Chapel Village subdivision from moderate to low density residential to moderate density. About eight acres of the total 46 were already zoned to the latter, or R-11.

Thomas Hutton & Engineering Company requested the rezoning. Ruxton Bobbitt, a local real estate agent who has been working with those developers in building a new subdivision of single-family homes, spoke in favor of the rezoning.

"This would provide needed housing for Henderson," said Bobbitt. "I have been a real estate agent in this market for 35 years and I don't think Henderson has ever faced the housing dilemma that we're faced with, the shortage."

Seifert excused himself from the vote with a resolution from his fellow council members. The others passed the rezoning resolution unanimously.

Lastly, the council awarded H.G. Reynolds with a contract for the find and fix project in the Sandy Creek Basin. There are some major inflow and infiltration issues in the basin, leading to bypasses of stormwater, like the two reports printed in the Dispatch in the past few weeks.

The project went out to bid twice — the first, there were no bites. H.G. Reynolds sent in the only bid.

The $6.1 million project will find and fix problems like underwater manholes, broken pipes and more — and lead to fewer overflows, said Lipscomb. The city is paying for it with a $5 million state revolving fund grant and a $2.5 million loan. Lipscomb recalls working on this project as far back as 2019, when the city received the first bit of funding.