A legal battle over the location of a homeless shelter in North Wilkesboro could be a step closer to ending.

The Catherine H. Barber Memorial Shelter has served residents in Wilkes County who have fallen on hard times for more than three decades. They've been looking for a more stable, permanent location and currently operate at a church outside of town limits.

Last year, a local dentist donated a building in North Wilkesboro to the group. Shelter officials applied for a permit to open there. But a town board denied their request.

The nonprofit Institute for Justice filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of the shelter.

According to the lawsuit, town officials say there are public health and safety concerns due to the building's proximity to the highway and that the shelter would have an impact on neighboring property values.

But a federal judge recently ruled in favor of the shelter. The ruling says that the town's decision to deny the permit violated state law and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment.

“The defendants have 30 days to appeal the decision," says Diana Simpson who is an attorney at the Institute for Justice. "We don't know whether they will or not that's up to them, but we are prepared to fight the whole way until the end of this case and until our clients can open at 106 Elkin Highway."

Officials with the Town of North Wilkesboro say they are reviewing the ruling and discussing next steps.

“I contend that the Board of Adjustment had a rational basis to deny the permit -specifically the safety of the shelter's guests exiting a facility mere feet from one of  the area's busiest roads ... Courts have historically reviewed zoning decisions under the rational-basis standard of review. The Board of Adjustment based its decision on safety, which certainly is a rational basis,” says Town Attorney Daniel Johnson.

Town manager Wilson Hooper says local officials will meet on January 4th to decide whether or not they will appeal the federal district court's ruling.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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