Columbus to consider amendment for group homes

Published 12:56 pm Friday, November 16, 2012

Public hearing set for Dec. 20

Columbus Town Council will consider an amendment to its zoning ordinance next month that could restrict future family care homes to at least ½ mile apart.

Residents of the Holly Hills subdivision attended town council’s meeting last Thursday, Nov. 15 to urge the town to adopt a recommendation from the town planning board following a second group home being proposed within the subdivision.

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Whether or not council approves the amendment, the second group home in Holly Hills will be grandfathered due to vested rights. Going forward, the town could restrict family care homes to be at least ½ mile apart if council approves the amendment.

Council set a public hearing regarding the amendment, which also includes allowing family care homes in all residential zoning districts to comply with state and federal law.

Jim Dorsett, of the Holly Hills subdivision told council that residents worked with the planning board on the amendment and urged council to approve the recommendations.

“The planning board worked hard on it,” Dorsett said. “I’d like to suggest the council approve the planning board’s recommendations.”

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre explained that council could not vote on the amendments last week due to the requirement of a public hearing.

Council then voted to set the public hearing for the Dec. 20 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

Several residents attended the meeting regarding the family care home as well as last month’s council meeting.

Last month several Holly Hills residents spoke with concerns that a second home would detract from property values and the town should have already enacted measures to restrict two family care homes within ½ mile of each other long ago as the state allows.

Looking into amendments to its zoning ordinance was sparked when town officials learned of a second family care home proposed by Synergy in Action, Inc., which has three family care homes and two alternative family living (AFL) homes in Polk County. One of the family care homes has been in Holly Hills since 2002, with residents last month saying they have never had issues with the existing family care home residents.

Columbus officials discovered that its zoning ordinance did not allow family care homes in all of its residential zoning districts, which is required by state and federal law. In looking into the laws, Columbus also discovered that it is allowed by the state to restrict such homes from being located close together.

The planning board’s recommendation is to add language to its zoning ordinance stating, “No family care home may be located within one-half (1/2) mile of any other family care home.”

The planning board’s recommendation also amends the definition of a family care home to mirror state and federal law definitions.

Family care home is proposed to be defined in Columbus’ zoning ordinance as, “a home with support and supervisory personnel that provides room and board, personal care and habilitation services in a family environment for not more than six resident persons with disabilities. ‘Persons with disabilities’ means a person with a temporary or permanent physical, emotional or mental disability including but not limited to mental retardation, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, hearing and sight impairments, emotional disturbances and orthopedic impairments but not including mentally ill persons who are dangerous to others as defined in N.C. Gen. Stat. 122C-3(11).”

The town’s proposed amendment also includes allowing the family care home use in the permitted use table in each residential zoning district, “as proscribed by federal and state fair housing law.”

Synergy in Action Executive Administrator Kathy Romich said the homes are staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week with at least one staff member and no participant ever being left alone. She said last month that Synergy in Action is not licensed to serve individuals who are sex offenders or people with violent criminal histories.

The group home currently located in Holly Hills includes four women, who spend their days working at Polk Vocational Services and participate in area church and community activities, she said.

The house Synergy in Action is attempting to purchase in Holly Hills includes the application of a construction loan for improvements to the house, which will increase the value of the home, Romich said.

The application process for the second home has not yet begun.

Synergy in Action, located in Tryon, is nonprofit and is state and federally funded as well as through fundraising and sponsorships. Synergy in Action’s goal is to help people work toward independent living, according to Romich.