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Shelter plan irks Hall Top residents

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

It’s a typical neighborhood with houses, trees, bikes in the yard, a basketball goal and — an animal shelter?

To concerned residents of the Hall Top Rural District, a residential area of almost 1,000 houses off of Russ Avenue near K Mart in Waynesville, placing a no-kill animal shelter in the middle of their neighborhood is like a game of “Guess What Doesn’t Belong?” But a zoning amendment approved by the town board on Oct. 9 allows Sarge’s Animal Rescue Foundation, a non-profit organization, to do just that.

The alderman voted 4-1 to amend zoning regulations to allow an animal shelter to be a permitted use in the Hall Top district. Mayor Henry Foy dissented, citing his concern that residents in the area of the proposed shelter hadn’t been given enough notice. Only one resident who opposed the shelter, Robert Hawk, came to the Oct. 9 meeting.

The rest of the room was filled with roughly 25 Sarge supporters, who made an impassioned plea to the town board to approve the land as the site of the organization’s proposed no-kill animal shelter. Ultimately, they did.

Trouble is, the neighbors in the Hall Top District (located off Bradley Street near Barberville Baptist Church on Russ Avenue) weren’t aware of Sarge’s plans. Sarge’s didn’t do anything wrong in failing to notify the public. They put the requisite notice of a public hearing in The Mountaineer. Still, most residents were totally caught unaware when word spread of the alderman’s decision to allow for an animal shelter on the property.

Rosalyn Mills, a Hall Top resident, said she found out about the alderman’s decision the day after from a friend who telephoned her.

“They called and asked me, ‘do you know anything about this?’ I said, no, I don’t. I get out in the neighborhood and start asking questions. ‘Did you know anything about this? Did you receive any letters or notification about this?’ No, they had not,” Mills said.

“Sarge’s had not been in the neighborhood communicating with the residents, so of course we had no inkling that any of this was going on,” she said.

Neighbor Rachel Torda, whose property is adjacent to the proposed site, said the one public notice required to be printed in the paper simply wasn’t enough.

“I don’t have time to scan the public notices looking for something that impacts me,” she said.

Residents of the Hall Top area who knew about the plans made it a point to relay the information to other members of the community. Neighbors turned out in droves at the following town meeting on Oct. 23. The size of the crowd shocked town officials. Foy said the 75-plus audience was close to the largest he’s ever seen at a town board meeting. In the audience were residents of the Hall Top District as well as representatives from Sarge’s Animal Rescue.

The Oct. 23 meeting wasn’t a public hearing, so Mills, who was on the agenda, spoke on behalf of her neighbors. Ultimately, the board voted 3-2 to send the decision back to the planning board. This time, aldermen Gary Caldwell and Kenneth Moore joined Foy in his opinion that the residents of the neighborhood hadn’t been properly notified. Aldermen Libba Feichter and Gavin Brown stuck by their previous vote to OK the zoning amendment.

Moore was alerted to the exact location of the animal shelter by his sister-in-law and her husband, who live in the neighborhood. The alderman said, though, that this fact didn’t play a part in his decision to reverse his previous vote.

“The people in that neighborhood, I don’t think were notified properly,” Moore said. On why he changed his mind on the vote, Moore also said he was under the impression that the shelter was going to be located at a different site than the one proposed.

“It’s a big mess,” he said.

“It scared the neighbors, and I just wanted it to be brought back to the table,” Caldwell said of his vote reversal.

“There’s some elderly folks that spent 35 to 40 years in there, and I just felt like they needed to have a say so in their neighborhood,” he said.

Representatives from Sarge’s expressed shock at the vote to send the decision back to the planning board.

“We had posted the public notices for when they first approved (the zoning amendement). We had thought that everything was fine and that everyone was in support,” said Doyle Teague, president of Sarge’s.


A pressing need

The animal shelter, slated for completion in 2010, will sit on five acres and house 25 dogs and 25 cats at any one time. The animals will be kept indoors and taken out for exercise.

Neighbors shouldn’t be concerned about the noise or appearance of the shelter, Teague said.

“I’ve spoken to an architectural company who designs animal shelters all over the country. It would be a very pleasing building. It will be constructed in such a way that the best soundproofing materials available will be used. It would be a very beautiful site — it will look very good,” Teague said.

A buffer of trees will shield the shelter from the road, and a nice-looking wooden fence will be put up, he said.

Sarge’s has been raising money for a no-kill shelter for almost three years. Haywood County currently doesn’t have one, and the current shelter fills up every six or seven days.

“There is a need for an adoption center where there is not such a crunch time like there is in the county shelter. We’re just trying to lighten the burden on the county,” said Teague.

Sarge’s rescues animals from the county shelter and places them in foster homes. Currently, 50 animals reside in homes around the county. Sarge’s animals are brought to adoption days at different locations every week.

Town officials and residents alike have said that they support Sarge’s as an organization.

“I totally support a no-kill shelter. I have a dog I got less than a year ago from a no-kill shelter. I’ve given money to Sarge’s,” said Torda, a Hall Top resident. “I don’t have anything in this world against Sarge’s.”

Moore agreed.

“They’re a good organization and I love animals. I just think that it was done wrong, and Lord knows that I’m not trying to do anything to hurt Sarge’s,” Moore said


Residents voice concerns

Appreciation for Sarge’s mission aside, however, residents contend that the animal shelter doesn’t have a place in their neighborhood.

“Frankly, we just don’t want it in the middle of our neighborhood. It’s just not appropriate. It needs to be put in a different setting,” Mills said.

One argument that has been used by Sarge’s supporters is that the Hall Top area has been home to other animals — namely cows, chickens and horses — in the past.

Though the area is still zoned for agriculture, Mills said that’s simply not the type of community it is anymore.

“This is no longer a farming community. Though it may be zoned for agriculture, it is not used for that purpose anymore. It’s a residential community,” she said.

Torda, another neighbor, expressed additional concerns. She feels Sarge’s is not being forthcoming with residents and is misinforming the town about the proposed location.

“It’s not just this little tiny pocket of houses. There are about 35 houses (immediately surrounding the property). When they talk about it on the application for the zoning and in the meeting, they likened (the shelter) to businesses along Russ Avenue. It’s so misleading, and I think a group like Sarge’s that is so capable of going out and sending out publicity ... it doesn’t speak well of them,” Torda said.

“The community wants to support them. They are making a huge mistake by not allowing the community to be part of this process,” Torda said.

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