Battle continues for new Community Table in Richfield

Published 7:46 pm Friday, October 30, 2020

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The battle over a new Community Table site in Richfield at the town’s Methodist Church continues with comments from one Richfield commissioner as well as an email to town officials, a copy of which was obtained by The Stanly News & Press.

Attorneys on both sides of the issue have been in communication with each other for some time now, according to Commissioner Jim Misenheimer. He said the town’s lawyer, Charles Brown of Albemarle, “has had two months to study this,” adding the board needs to decide the issue because the Council “owes it to those for and against the Community Table.”

S. Ellis Hankins, a Chapel Hill attorney, represents the interests of Richfield UMC, according to the church’s minister, Rev. Rick Clough.

Stalled Renovations

The issue stems over the church’s application for a permit to renovate the kitchen which would allow Richfield UMC to become a site for Stanly Community Christian Ministry’s Community Table program.

At Monday’s meeting of the town council, Richfield Mayor Terry Deese said the issue would not be discussed “until we get clarification from the attorneys on both sides. This is now a legal issue.”

As part of his zoning report to the Richfield Town Council at the meeting, Misenheimer referred to “hateful comments” made on the Stanly News & Press’ Facebook page on a story published Oct. 15 regarding the plans for the Community Table (story link here).

“The longer this thing lasts, the longer that we’re drawing attention to something that it’s unfortunate,” Misenheimer said in the meeting.

As the zoning officer, he continued, he “would have made the recommendation to issue a permit” to the church. Misenheimer said until the church does something illegal “or does not concur with the rules, zoning laws, and policies, the Methodist Church can renovate their buildings.”

At the May meeting of the council, the town’s commissioners discussed the situation, with the minutes stating the initial permit “only included an upfit in the basement” for the IMPACT youth group. The minutes also state concerns regarding increased parking around the church for the meals as well as traffic possibly arising from Richfield Elementary.

The board moved to issue a stop work order as it wanted to know the plans of the church for the kitchen, which the town commissioners later received as per the August meeting minutes as members of SCCM and Crossroads made a presentation to the council.

Stating Their Case

Dr. John Risley, chairman of the church’s trustees, emailed the Town Administrator Carolyn Capps on Aug. 30 stating the church “has never been contacted by The Town of Richfield in written letter to appear before the Town Council for any zoning noncompliance.” At the September meeting of the town’s council, Mrs. Zina Risley, John’s wife, read the email to the board which stated the history of Richfield UMC.

The email further stated the coordinator of Crossroads Connections, an association of churches in the northern part of Stanly, received a verbal communication in mid-May that “a stop work order would be issued on the basement permit, because the church was zoned for ‘worship & discipleship’ and therefore does not allow meals for anyone or other typical church functions or ministries.”

Additionally, the email stated in June the church did not want to break into the ceiling twice, so they decided to update electrical and plumbing located on the same wall as the basement kitchenette. The Stanly County Permit Office, the email states, decided “the work at the church should be under two separate work permits” for the basement and kitchen.

The kitchen plans were approved by the Stanly County Permit Office on June 25, but the town of Richfield requested additional permit information on the renovation, the email states, and wanted them to appear before the council to talk about the church’s future ministries.

According to the email, representatives of SCCM and Crossroads made a presentation to the council Aug. 24 stating the Community Table would “serve a hot meal and conversation to the large senior citizen community located in the Richfield area. (The project) would bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the town.”

The email also asked for a written statement from the Richfield Town Council on the church’s zoning and further clarification of the situation, adding further delays would increase construction costs and force the church “to seek legal representation and seek damages.”

According to the letter, “Since 1906, Richfield United Methodist Church has been a good neighbor to the Richfield community.”

In an interview this week, Zina Risley said “our target demographic is seniors.” She said there are at least 110 senior citizens living in Richfield and “way more than 200” outside the town’s limits.

She said the demographic which the church, Crossroads and SCCM were trying to reach are seniors who may have lost a spouse and are alone or unable to cook.

“They don’t see anybody all week long, so they don’t have any social interaction at all,” Zina said. “What we’re going to provide as a church along with SCCM is the connection part…church members and Crossroads will be there to serve (people), to sit down and eat with them, know them by name, create connection so they get to talk to someone during the week.”

She also said the new Community Table location would be “a place for (people) to go to feel warm, have a warm meal, maybe something their wife would have cooked if she were living.”

“No Increase in Crime”

One community in Stanly has had a Community Table location for many years and not seen an increase in crime, according to the town’s police chief

Police Chief James Wilson said the location at 227 N. Kendall St., Norwood, has not had any increase in the crime rate of the area, adding families are mostly the ones being served by the location, which is open for lunch daily from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Wilson said nothing had ever happened at the location “that I would say, ‘Oh, this is a bad place. We need to get rid of it.’ ”

According to information obtained from the Community Table, the location in Norwood has been open since 2002, three years after the initial Community Table in Albemarle opened.

According to Heather Kilde, executive director of Stanly Community Christian Ministry, a food pantry outreach from 2-6 p.m. Monday began in Norwood last fall in a partnership between SCCM, the Norwood Ministerial Association and the Town of Norwood.

“We are so grateful for the desire for service from the church and civic leaders of Norwood…we anticipate adding more hours as the need demands,” Kilde said.

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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