Belleville

August 2, 2014

Should group home be allowed to move into Belleville subdivision?

A request to turn a home off Green Mount Road into a residence for four adults with intellectual disabilities has some subdivision residents worried about their safety, quality of life and property values.

Representatives of TDL Group say the residents slated to live at 212 Turning Leaf Circle are not violent and deserve to live in the community like anyone else. And, state law requires background checks for staff and residents involved with the group home.

Robin Cimera, a TDL representative, reminded attendees at a recent Zoning Board that the federal Fair Housing Act is in place to prevent discrimination against residents because of their disabilities.

The City Council at 7 p.m. Monday will decide whether to approve a special use permit for TDL Group to use the house, which TDL owns, as a "community integrated living arrangement" for four unrelated adults with intellectual disabilities. The meeting will be held in the council chambers in City Hall at 101 S. Illinois St.

The variance is needed because the Green Mount Manor subdivision, which has mostly single families, is actually in a part of the city that has a C-4 commercial zoning district designation.

Group homes in residential neighborhoods with single-family zoning do not need special use permits because small community residences are included in the permitted uses.

A representative of TDL Group answered questions about the group home and another employee spoke in favor of the proposal at a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on July 24.

At least nine residents spoke against the proposal.

After hearing from residents, aldermen and city staff, the Zoning Board voted 6-0 to approve the special use permit and the board recommends the City Council do the same.

Zoning Board member Tim Price was absent.

Cimera, representing TDL, said that the four adults with disabilities will never be left alone, per state Department of Human Services rules.

Regarding traffic and parking concerns, Cimera said the property has a two-car garage for staff. Some of the adults work and they either use public transportation or get a ride by the TDL Group.

The TDL group has 13 group homes, in St. Clair, Jefferson, Wayne and Hamilton counties. There have not been safety issues at those locations, Cimera said. TDL formed 18 months ago and was previously JJR Enterprises.

State law does not allow group homes to be within 800 feet of each other without a waiver. This distance encompasses most of the subdivision.

In summary, residents who spoke against the proposal said they were concerned that, among other issues, the residents with intellectual disabilities could be dangerous; the house on Turning Leaf is too small for four adults; there will be too many relatives and friends visiting at once.

Cassie Eachus, who moved into the subdivision more than a year ago, and other residents signed a petition objecting to the group home and plan to attend Monday's meeting to get more information.

"They're not giving us enough information to make us feel safe about what is coming into the community," Eachus said.

Eachus said she and other parents are concerned about interactions between the disabled adults and children in the neighborhood, especially with a new school being built about a half-mile away.

Mascoutah School District 19 is building a school at 150 Wingate Blvd. The new Wingate Elementary is scheduled to be done in August 2015.

Eachus said she understands if TDL Group cannot name the residents or give out personal information, but she at least wants representatives to explain how the residents are intellectually disabled.

"They're telling us they don't have a violent history but it doesn't mean something couldn't happen," Eachus said. "They could miss their medication or be provoked and then you have a violent incident in the neighborhood. Tell us exactly what we'll be dealing with."

Even though TDL Group has a staff member present at all times, the staff person might not be able to stop a violent, disgruntled resident, Eachus said.

Eachus said a home of unrelated adults acts more like multi-family housing and the home is operated by a commercial business, which the Green Mount Manor Homeowner Association contract does not allow.

"Why are you picking these brand new subdivisions to move into?" Eachus said. "There are a lot of other nice houses in Belleville already zoned multi-family they can put these people where they won't have to deal with homeowner associations and these stipulations."

Donna Takmajian, who helps run Belle Manor in Belleville, another TDL Group home, said, "Sometimes people get the wrong idea of people with disabilities. They feel they are sex offenders and out to hurt people and that's not the case.

"Our guys are high functioning ... one works at McDonald's in O'Fallon. The others work at SAVE and they work during the day. They go to workshop and make money just like us ... They want to have choices of where to live, just like us."

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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