Two people who opposed the location of group home for women with drug and alcohol addictions were escorted out of the meeting by police after speaking out of turn at Thursday’s meeting.
The outbursts came after Curtis Capps, owner of Royal Sausage and Co-Publisher of the St. Clair County News, asked the Planning and Zoning Board to grant a conditional use for property zoned R-1. Capps owns the property where the group home is located.
Capps said the group home was opened seven months ago and currently has 12 women staying at the residence, located at 202 Johnson Drive.
He told the board there are no reports of any problems filed with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department or the Pell City Police Department in connection with the group home.
The city’s building inspector, Paul Story, told the Planning and Zoning Board he was unaware that the residence was being used as a home for women with alcohol and drug addictions until about two weeks ago.
Story said he informed Capps that he was required to go before the Planning and Zoning Board to get the proper zoning for the group home.
There was a large contingency of supporters for the group home, but residents living near the group home voiced strong opposition and were angered to find out that the group home was in operation for seven months without any public notice.
Residents agreed there was a need for a home like this in Pell City, but want the home for recovering drug and alcohol addicts somewhere else.
“The zoning of this property is for a family dwelling and that’s what we want it to remain,” said Kay Davis, who lives along Mallard Drive.
She said residents should have been informed of the group home before it was opened, not seven months after the home was in operation.
“I don’t think it should be in a residential area with children,” Davis said.
Preston Griffith, who lives along Rock Inn Estates Road, was also upset that residents were not informed about the group home prior to its opening.
“I’m telling you right now, Mr. Capps put this in and he didn’t ask anyone,” Griffith said. “You don’t do it behind people’s back.”
Resident Phillip Robertson agreed
“It should have been done properly and in a different part of town,” Robertson said.
He said the Planning and Zoning Board would violate city ordinance by granting Capps’ request for the conditional use of the residential property.
Chairman Bill Ervin asked Robertson if he was an attorney.
Robertson said, “No.”
“Unlike Mr. Robertson, I am a lawyer,” said Pell City attorney Walter Kennedy, who said he was representing a resident who owns a home next to the group home.
Kennedy also said the Planning and Zoning Board could not legally approve the conditional use for a group home for property zoned R-1.
He said the conditional use is restricted for “Family Care Homes,” which can only serve up to 10 individuals, not 12, and those individuals must be children, not adults.
Kennedy said the group home is more of a rehabilitation facility.
Capps said he did not seek B-1 zoning because he thought residents in that community would preferr the conditional use request for the property, even though the residence is located next to property zoned for businesses.
Pell City attorney Hugh Holladay, who represents Capps, said the board needed to ask itself if the conditional use request was contrary to the public’s interest.
“It is in the public’s interest to have a (group) home in this city,” Holladay said.
He also noted that property next to the group home is zoned B-1 and M-1.
He said the use of the property is consistent with the use of other properties next to it, at least on two sides.
Former realtor Dick Whatley said the use of the property for a group home would not affect property values in the Rock Inn Estates community.
“It would be something I would not object to next to my house,” said Whatley, who lives in the historic downtown district of Pell City.
Tracy Wyatt, who is the director of the group home, said there are plans in place to actually improve the property, and the group home has operated without any problems for the past seven months.
“All these women have jobs and pay taxes,” Wyatt said. “They are productive citizens now.”
She said the group home will not allow any of the women to wander off the property.
“I’m a recovering drug addict,” said Michelle Gilbert, a resident of the group home. “I have hope now because of that place.”
The Planning and Zoning Board voted in favor of the conditional use request. Board member Bill Phillips was the only member of the board to vote against the request.
Ervin told residents that by granting a conditional use request, the matter could be revisited by the Planning and Zoning Board.
“We can rescind it if we get complaints,” Ervin said.
The Pell City Mayor and Council must give the final approval of the conditional use request.
The council normally discusses zoning requests at their Thursday work sessions, prior to their regularly scheduled Monday night council meetings when a vote by the council is taken.
The mayor and council generally votes in favor of the Planning and Zoning Board’s recommendation, but not always.
“There is a need of something like this in the city,” Ervin said.