Columbus restricts group homes to ½ mile apart

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, December 22, 2012

Councilwoman Margaret Metcalf said Columbus isn’t Asheville and Columbus isn’t Raleigh. She said Columbus doesn’t have as much land area so people are more restricted here as to where they can live.

“In Columbus we only have so much land and we can’t turn our back on what the citizens wish,” said Metcalf. “It isn’t that I have anything at all against the people or the group homes or Synergy because I do not, but I do not feel that 600 ft. is an adequate amount. The people that live in Holly Hills now have lived there for years and years; some built their own homes there. At this point in time I don’t think it would be fair to go in and put 10 or 12 group homes there.”

Metcalf said she has to do what’s fair and the town is not saying group homes can’t be in Columbus, the town is just saying it needs to be limited.

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“No matter what decision we make it’s going to be the wrong decision for someone and I’m deeply sorry for that,” said Metcalf. “We were elected by the people to do what they wish.”

CooperRiis Executive Director Virgil Stucker attended with statistical information regarding mental health. He said mental health illness affects 25 percent of families, meaning one out of every four families in Columbus is challenged by a family member with mental health.

He also said 10 percent of our children are on psychiatric medication and the numbers are large who need our caring and our compassion.

“Sometimes we worry about violence,” Stucker said, “my goodness look at what happened in Connecticut.”

He said he’s never had an issue with violence at CooperRiis or in Asheville because they are in a group home setting.

If they’re left isolated and disengaged from the community, left with a mother who doesn’t get help, Stucker said, then you’re left with what happened in Connecticut.

“Statistics show us that people with mental illness are no more likely to harm you then your next-door neighbor,” Stucker said.

He urged council to restrict family care homes like Asheville has done at 600 ft. apart from each other.

But Holly Hills resident Sarah Cross said 600 ft. would be approximately every third house in the neighborhood.

After a pastor said restricting group homes means keeping moer people who need help in their own homes which can end up being the same situation as Connecticut.

“If that gentleman would have been in a group home those children would be alive today,” said the pastor.

Dorsett said he didn’t appreciate the Connecticut shooting being brought into Columbus’ situation.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre ended the discussions by saying council’s decision is based on a lot of factors. He said when you look at Columbus it is possible to get two to three group homes in town limits if they are placed properly.

“I wouldn’t mind one in my neighborhood,” he said.

“But when citizens come we have to weight that carefully,” he added.

McIntyre said there’s a lot of land in Polk County and a lot of land outside Columbus City Limits for group homes. He also mentioned that no one on council has any problems with Synergy or group homes and that he thinks Romich is doing a tremendous service for the community.

“Of course we are disappointed that the council chose to enact the half-mile radius statute,” Romich said following the town’s decision. “We understand the members of the council felt they were acting in the best interest of those constituents who were present and expressing concern. We have every intention of abiding by this decision as we continue to grow in order to serve the citizens of Polk County who need group home services. Our purpose remains to provide excellent care and be excellent neighbors.”