The Conway City Council unanimously approved a conditional-use permit to allow religious activities at Soul Food Café Mission on Donaghey Avenue, which is zoned an A-1 (agricultural).
The planning commission at its December meeting voted 7-2, with Commissioners Justin Brown and Wendy Shirar opposing, to recommend the council approve the permit without conditions.
“We wanted to do this conditional-use permit in order to do what we’re doing now and what we’ve done in this city for 16 years,” Director of Soul Food Café Mission Rick Harvey said.
The mission provides food boxes, hygiene products, clothes, free haircuts and, on Tuesdays, a hot meal to those in need.
Harvey previously attempted to obtain rezoning to allow for overnight stays for homeless people but withdrew the request after area residents opposed the idea because the mission is near a school and daycare center.
He shared a meal with the leaders of the opposition group to discuss the conditional-use permit request.
After hearing their concerns, he decided to self-impose five conditions in order to ease their minds.
“We would be willing to offer some conditions just as an olive branch, peace move to the neighborhood because we want to be good neighbors,” he said.
The conditions were:
• Hours of operation between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
• No overnight stays.
• Donaghey Avenue will be the only means of ingress and egress. Violet Street will not be used for access.
• Conditional-use permit granted exclusively for Soul Food Café Mission.
• Constructing an eight-foot privacy fence on the northern side of the property.
Harvey said construction of the fence started this week and would be finished Wednesday.
The council approved the permit with the conditions and Mayor Bart Castleberry applauded both sides of the issue for the compromise.
“I think this has been a great lesson to a lot of folks that when opposing sides finally just sit down at the table and visit, you can accomplish much,” he said.
After the permit was granted, the nearly packed audience in the District Court Building cheered.
On Wednesday morning, Harvey and two helpers from Soul Food were finishing up the fence.