Columbus restricts group homes to ½ mile apart

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

Family care or group homes will have to remain a minimum of ½ mile apart in Columbus.

Columbus Town Council met Thursday, Dec. 20 and approved amendments to it zoning ordinance and use table. The town first approved an amendment to allow group homes, which is required by state and federal law, in all residential districts. Council added language to the zoning ordinance that states family care homes can not be located within ½ mile of each other following its planning board recommendation. The town also amended its permitted use table renaming convalescent homes and group care facilities to nursing homes, assisted living facilities and group care facilities and took the use out of the R1 (residential) district and allowed the use in the HC (highway commercial) district.

Columbus’ meeting was full of residents from the Holly Hills subdivision and area mental health professionals.

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Columbus first began discussing changes to its zoning ordinance after Synergy in Action Inc. proposed to add another family care home in the Holly Hills subdivision.

Synergy in Action currently has a family care home in Holly Hills that has been there since 2002.

The town began looking at its zoning ordinance and discovered it went against state and federal law because family care homes were not allowed in all residential Columbus districts. At the same time, several Holly Hills residents got involved and began expressing concern to Columbus officials about a second home being located in their neighborhood. State law allows local governments to restrict family care homes to a maximum distance of half mile apart.

Holly Hills resident Linda Stevenson said her concern is traffic. She said she doesn’t care what anyone tells her she believes a group home brings more traffic than a single family would bring.

Holly Hills resident Jim Dorsett said the group home currently in Holly Hills has some of the greatest people there. But he also said Synergy in Action is a business and when they have meetings there are 10 to 15 cars parked around the home. He did mention that he’s with the fire department and when he has gone on medical calls the home is well organized, staff well trained and the houses are well kept.

“We’re not against the people,” Dorsett said. “We know group homes are necessary. We’re just concerned about continued growth of group homes and (them) affecting property values.”

Synergy in Action Executive Administrator Kathy Romich said she was not at the meeting to persuade the town one way or another on the amendment because Synergy in Action officials know they will continue to provide services to those in need.

The home Synergy in Action was looking at in Holly Hills required some upgrades, “so we felt we would be improving,” said Romich.

“I appreciate so much the comments that have been made by residents that I don’t think anybody here is against people with disabilities,” she said.

She also said the individuals Synergy in Action serve are already living in our community, living in impoverished situations.

“We help them become participating members of our community,” she said. “We’re not trying to overtake or create a community of our own. That’s certainly not our goal. We’d love to have homes all over Polk County spread out because that integrates people in our community.”

Councilwoman Ernie Kan was the sole vote against the half-mile restriction.

Kan said she still has a concern about the half-mile restriction and after looking at a picture of where family care homes could be located in Columbus after the amendment she is a little more concerned.

“I understand the people about wanting not to have them so close together,” said Kan. “I also understand there’s a greater and greater need for them. I think a half mile limit is too much.”