Halfway house wins zoning approval

Published 1:38 pm Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Polk County Zoning Board of Adjustments overturned a zoning administrator&squo;s decision to deny a permit for the house.

Herb Coon had opened Herb&squo;s House, designed to help people recover from alcoholism and other substance abuse problems, at 322 Hollow Woods Lane off Peniel Road. Neighbors complained to the county, saying the house was not suitable for a residential neighborhood. Coon was then denied a zoning permit on the grounds that a halfway house was not a permitted use within the MU (multiple use) district.

Although the zoning board could not agree that a halfway house fits in any current permitted use category in the MU district, board members unanimously agreed that the use should be included in the MU district based on the district&squo;s intent.

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At the March 4 hearing, nine neighboring landowners stated objections to the halfway house. They said that relapsing clients present a threat of criminal misconduct, that the presence of the halfway house would adversely affect nearby property values and that Herb&squo;s House will result in increased traffic on the private Hollow Woods Lane. In addition, they said Herb&squo;s House is a for profit business and has no place in a residential neighborhood. They also expressed concern over the safety of children in the neighborhood.

Jim Van Hecke, president of the Addiction Recovery Institute, former director of the Pavillon, a treatment facility in Polk County, and current facilitator of the Polk County Mental Health and Substance Abuse Initiative, gave testimony in favor of Herb&squo;s House last week. He testified that there are hundreds of peer-run and supervised halfway houses similar to Herb&squo;s House across North Carolina that are operating without complaint in their communities.

Van Hecke also testified that based on national statistics there may be an estimated 1,400 to 1,800 residents in Polk County suffering from treatable addiction problems that are not being therapeutically addressed. The threat to public safety, according to Van Hecke&squo;s testimony, comes not from the voluntary and self-governing clients of facilities such as Herb&squo;s House, but from this demonstrably larger group of people in the county not in proper therapeutic relationships, according to one of the zoning board&squo;s 22 findings of fact in the case.

Zoning board chairman Jim McDermott said the business fits with the MU district&squo;s intent especially because the business in question is a residence.

Herb&squo;s House, located on a 6.29 acre tract owned by Coon, is intended to serve as a structured transitional living community aiding the rehabilitation of recovering alcoholics and other substance abusers for adult male clients. The clients pay a weekly $150 rent and are supervised by Coon, himself a recovering alcoholic, who lives on the premises. Clients must come directly from an in-patient intensive treatment facility or have been sober and clean for at least 30 days. Coon recommends clients stay at Herb&squo;s House at least six months, and they are required to go to work, attend school or volunteer at a local non-profit at least five days per week. Currently, as many as six clients can be accommodated at Herb&squo;s House at any one time and Coon has plans to expand the facility&squo;s capacity to accommodate as many as 11 clients.

Herb&squo;s House is the only known halfway house of its kind in Polk County.

The zoning board declared a halfway house a permitted use in the county&squo;s MU district, so it is expected that the board of commissioners will have to add that particular use to the permitted use table.