Belleville

August 4, 2014

Heated debate: Belleville council, residents speak out on group home permit

The Belleville City Council delayed a vote on granting a permit for a group home for disabled adults in a subdivision amid opposing accusations of a lack of communication and discrimination.

A request by TDL Group for a special-use permit to house four adults with intellectual disabilities at 212 Turning Leaf Circle prompted a nearly two-hour discussion at a council meeting on Monday.

After listening to residents speak heatedly about the topic and then debating among themselves, aldermen voted 15-0 to table the issue until the next council meeting with the understanding that all sides meet to continue the dialogue before Aug. 18.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden was absent.

Tom Kennedy, an attorney representing TDL Group, said the delay will affect a state agreement the group plans to sign this week to downsize its Belle Manor location from 16 residents to eight.

Four of the residents who currently live at Belle Manor, another group home in Belleville, were planning to move to a home that TDL Group owns in the Green Mount Manor subdivision.

At least 20 residents from the subdivision attended a City Council meeting on Monday to either speak against allowing the "community integrated living arrangement" (CILA) or ask for more information about the proposal.

These residents wanted to know more about what a CILA is, the zoning classifications that pertain to their neighborhood and how the Homeowners Association contract affects the allowance of a group home.

Landon King, a resident of Green Mount Manor, circulated a petition that 40 residents signed because they could not attend Monday's meeting.

King, and other residents such as Samantha Harpel, questioned TDL Group's integrity. They said the group demonstrated a lack of professionalism and cooperation by failing to communicate and answer residents' questions and concerns or introduce themselves to residents as new, good neighbors.

King doesn't understand why the group home, which he feels operates more like a business or multi-family unit, wants to move into an area with mostly single family homes when there are better locations for a group home in the city.

King said he plans to bring some ideas to the table when homeowners meet with the TDL Group, but there isn't much residents can do since TDL Group already owns the home on Turning Leaf Circle. And, he also said there isn't much the group can say to get him to be in favor of the project.

About 12 people from TDL Group and residents from other cities who work with or know people with disabilities spoke in favor of the group home. They said that residents with disabilities want to -- and deserve to -- live in subdivisions like Green Mount Manor, too.

Tonya Lindsay, owner of TDL Group, said the four adults who want to move into the subdivision are high functioning, have jobs and are graduates of Belleville East High School.

The four adults are not violent and are required by the state to undergo criminal background checks before living in a group home, Lindsay said. A staff member will also accompany the residents 24 hours a day.

Many of the residents of the subdivision said they have relatives and children who are disabled, and their concerns and objections are not rooted in discrimination against people with disabilities.

Still, Lynn Jarman, executive director of LINC, which works with people with disabilities to live independently, said discrimination is what all the opposition is about.

Disabled adults face discrimination, too, like other minorities, Jarman said as she turned to face some subdivision residents, who are black.

One of those residents retorted, "I know what discrimination is and that's not it."

Before the aldermen voted, they weighed in on the topic. For instance:

*Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider asked what would happen to the home TDL Group owns if the council doesn't approve the permit.

* Ward 3 Alderman Gabby Rujawitz asked homeowners if they're willing to sit down with TDL Group and work things out.

*Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle asked how the Zoning Board of Appeals reached a unanimous decision to recommend approving the permit. He cited various criteria the board had to consider, such as if the use protects public health, safety and welfare or if the use has a positive effect on neighboring property.

The variance is needed because the subdivision near Green Mount Road is actually in a part of the city that has a C-4 commercial zoning district designation.

A group home in an area with single-family zoning would not have had to go before the Zoning Board for a special use permits because small community residences are allowed in those areas.

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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