Now isn’t that a riveting title for a blog post? I know, I know, who wants to read about county zoning, but I just wanted to share an experience that I had last night with a government entity doing its job.
There is a house up for sale across the cul-de-sac from me. A few weeks ago, some of my neighbors received a letter from our County Regional Planning and Economic Development Department notifying them that a request had been made for a Special Use Permit for a Community Residence.
As you can imagine, people were concerned, myself included. What is a ‘community residence’? How many people would be housed there? What would the residents be like? Would it increase traffic? Would our property values go down? How about the safety of the neighborhood? All legitimate concerns.
Some of us did some investigating and discovered that the company (let’s call it Residential Options Inc) wanting to purchase the home and requesting the special use permit works with adults with disabilities. Their key function is independent living in a group home setting. They have been in operation since 2001 and they currently run 18 homes in and around my neck of the woods.
So where does the Zoning Board come in? Last night, the Zoning Board of Appeals had a public hearing to allow interested parties to voice their support or opposition. My neighborhood was moderately represented with about a dozen people there. The project manager from Residential Options Inc was in attendance as well. She was allowed to speak first giving her reasons for wanting to purchase the house and requesting the special use permit. Her presentation was very articulate, professional, honest, and informative.
Unfortunately, it did nothing to assuage my neighbors’ concerns. The neighbors gave testimony about the number of children in the area (which grew from the dozen or so I see around to near 50), their concerns about the potential for additional traffic and also the lack of adequate parking near the house. The neighbors were articulate, passionate, full of facts and figures, and full of fear.
I get it, this is something new, something different. It’s human nature to be fearful of the unknown. But considering the testimony of Residential Options Inc’s project manager, why should we feel that this group home would be different from any other home in the area. Every neighborhood has their good neighbors and their not so good neighbors. It’s all a crap shoot.
After all parties had their say, the board members took the opportunity to make remarks before voting. I was impressed with each board member’s thoughtful statements addressing my neighbors’ concerns.
One board member in particular was able to respectfully address the palpable “not in my background” fear of the opposition without belittling or judging. Each board member seemed to truly be trying to ask themselves, “if this were my neighborhood, would I be in support of this group home?”
The entire discourse was civilized and respectful. The democratic process at work in our midst. Everyday citizens trying to mesh the concerns of the individual with the needs of the community. It still kind of takes my breath away to see it in action.