A controversial permit request to increase the capacity of a group home in St. Charles County hit a dead-end at the April 26 County Council meeting. However, the vote was hardly decisive.
Approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) to increase capacity – from eight residents to 12 – at the LIV Recovery Sober Living facility at 17 Placid Drive, off of Caulks Hill Road met with a 3-3 tied vote, with one council member absent. The vote ended the expansion issue in a defeat for the petitioner and applicant, Cameo Jones, but the home can continue to operate.
The meeting, which was sparsely attended, stood in stark contrast to the April 12 meeting when the measure was introduced to a large and vocal, if generally decorous, crowd. In the council’s preliminary questioning of the applicant at that meeting, a number of pointed issues cropped up.
First, it came to light that the group home has been operating for roughly a year, with no permit having been issued, thus LIV Recovery Sober Living has been illegally operating in violation of county regulations. However, this appears to have been due to misunderstood regulations and not a willful effort to evade the law. Additionally, the council identified parking problems on the residential lane on which the home sits based on the occupancy of the home and the number of vehicles allowed under current regulations. Finally, the council considered a matter of paramount importance to many of the residents of the neighborhood, namely property values and the imperative of protecting them in the near future.
During the questioning, Jones and her husband, Derek, gave forthcoming and confident testimony concerning the facility. They also attempted to quell the fears that some in the large crowd of spectators had concerning the project. Jones noted that the facility has been cited as a model for development by the National Alliance of Recovery Residences and its administrators have done their best to address issues raised by the home’s new neighbors.
However, council member John White (District 7) chided Jones for the “stealth situation,” by which her organization had proceeded to that moment. White and council Member Terry Hollander (District 5) concurred in the opinion that the recovery facility had hurt their cause by poor organization and planning.
The April 12 meeting then moved to public comments, and there was no shortage of observations. One of the first speakers declared that LIV Recovery Sober Living was the “best facility of its sort I’ve seen”, and said that opposition to the institution was based on “… misunderstanding or ignorance.” He then qualified the remark to assure the crowd that, by using the term “ignorance” he meant no offense.
Speaker Scott Hartman also praised the intent of LIV Recovery Sober Living to help the residents get their lives back. Other speakers alluded to the possibility that the opponent’s motives in this matter could be related to “bigotry” and “fear and stigma.” Still another speaker stated that people’s lives are at risk and that those imperatives outweighed considerations such as property values.
In response, those who opposed the project said they came to their decision by a number of lines of reasoning.
The first speaker who opposed the plan listed a potential decline in property values as his main complaint, but also noted that he had been involved in tense confrontations with residents of the group home. Another speaker said he had moved to the neighborhood because he liked it the way it was and did not welcome change. A third speaker claimed that she had a petition signed by 185 neighborhood residents opposing the plan. The last two of those speaking in opposition to the project expressed resentment at the questioning of their motives by the other side, with one woman stating, “… we are not racists or bigots.” She also expressed support for the organization’s goals and efforts.
After nearly 90 minutes of debate on April 12, council chairman Mike Elam (District 3) notified the board and spectators that the final vote on the issue would be on Monday, April 29. With Elam’s announcement, much of the crowd decamped for the evening.
At the April 29 meeting, the measure was the first item the council addressed. Elam read the bill and asked for a roll call vote. Council members Joe Cronin (District 1), Dave Hammond (District 4), and Nancy Schneider (District 6) voted against the proposed bill, while Joe Brazil (District 2), Hollander and Elam voted in favor of the measure. White, who had sponsored the bill (No. 4944) was absent due to illness; therefore, a potential deciding, tie-breaker vote was never cast. According to the council rules and state law, a tie vote reaffirms the status quo. Thus, the proposed group home facility at 17 Placid Drive will not receive a conditional use permit.
While the increased occupancy was denied, the home can continue to operate with eight residents as long as the owners make some building improvements to bring the home into compliance, according to Mary Enger, the county’s director of communications.
“Our building and code enforcement division is working with them to bring them into compliance and will provide them with a deadline for when compliance has to be met,” Enger said on April 28. “That date has not yet been set.”