The group home ordinance is moving forward. Some city council members call it discriminatory.
VIENNA, W.Va. (WTAP) – Vienna City Council unanimously passed an ordinance regulating residential drug treatment facilities in the area last week. Another ordinance that would regulate group residences was also passed, but with some opposition.
WTAP won both sides of the Group Residential Homes Ordinance, which passed its first reading four to three.
The ordinance would impose regulations on group residences, such as requiring them to register with the city and follow rules such as limiting the number of residents to 12 or one person per square foot of interior. house, whichever is lower, not including staff.
Vienna Mayor Rapp said: “So one of the things we were asking for was the fact that you had to be certified. You have to have some sort of certification from the government to say yes you’ve met certain restrictions, certain guidelines so that you continue to provide assistance to these people and monitor with respect to occupancy limits and things of this nature.”
Other regulations include being at least 1,500 feet from other residential group homes, requiring homes to report any deaths, serious injuries, or response from emergency personnel, among other rules.
Rapp said: “If you’re going to have a salvage home or whatever, there have to be rules. There must be someone who is responsible. There must be someone supervising this group of people who are strangers, who are thrown into a residential setting without any responsibility.
This ordinance would also prohibit the house from having a sign or any other exterior indication that it is a group residence visible from the street. Group homes should also adhere to applicable safety codes, such as fire safety. They must also comply with all city off-street parking requirements. It would also prohibit group homes from housing anyone who poses a direct threat to the safety of others or causes significant damage to people’s property.
Rapp, who voted for the measure, said while it’s important that people get the help they need, it must be done in a safe way.
However, not everyone agreed with the measure.
Kim Williams was among the dissenting voices.
“I was very worried because the order discriminates against people,” she said.
Williams said the order will discriminate against people with disabilities. It indicates how group residences are defined in the ordinance.
Verbatim it reads “For the purposes of this section, group residential home” means a building owned, rented or occupied by persons with developmental disabilities or behavioral disabilities for the purpose of establishing a personal residence.”
Williams said, “You can’t isolate people based on disability and put different restrictions or conditions on them that you don’t put on people who don’t have a disability.”
Williams believes this violates the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
She is also concerned that the order will apply to veterans with PTSD, foster families with children with disabilities, among other situations.
Rapp doesn’t believe the city will violate any laws, saying officials have spoken with legal representatives.
He said: “…that doesn’t mean that just because you have a disabled child or a disabled spouse or whatever, you don’t have to abide by these rules. This is not the intent of this order. And so there’s a lot of language there. This language we’ve taken comes straight from state code, so we’re pretty confident that we’re not violating either.
Since the interview, Rapp has checked with zoning officials and clarified that the ordinance will not apply to families.
Rapp acknowledged that issues may arise in different circumstances, but points out that the order provides an appeal process for individual cases.
He also said the specific parameters of who exactly should register and follow the guidelines listed in the order have yet to be finalized.
Rapp also explained that the wording of the order does not explicitly say that the regulations are directed at businesses, as some entities are not officially registered as businesses but act as businesses.
WTAP also spoke to other dissenting voters on the city council.
Councilman Christopher Mancuso voted against the ordinance. He believes the order is discriminatory and fears being sued.
Williams shares the same concern.
She said, “We put ourselves in a bad position to lose a lawsuit and all the implications of that, including the loss of HUD funding…”,
Councilor Melissa Elam also voted against the measure. She said the prescription has no teeth, so it looks like an empty gesture. She doesn’t believe the local government has the power to enforce the ordinance because of federal and state law — specifically, the Americans With Disabilities Act as well as the Fair Housing Act.
Elam does not believe the order is meant to be discriminatory. However, she believes the impact could be discriminatory due to the language used in the order.
She foresees that amendments will probably be presented at second reading.
The second reading of the ordinance will take place at the municipal council next Thursday.
Parkersburg recently passed similar orders and faced a pushback from a disability advocacy group, which promises to sue.
Wendy Tuck was the only dissenting vote on the Parkersburg City Council of members who voted.
The other ordinance that will also be in second reading at next Thursday’s Vienna City Council meeting is the Residential Drug Treatment Facilities Ordinance, which passed the first reading unanimously. Mayor Rapp explained that he will take place of the moratorium if he passes his final reading.
The moratorium is due to end on June 30.
Last year, the city government asked for a year to settle the regulations. Rapp said the hope was for the state legislature to offer guidance, but the city hasn’t received much help from the state.
The Treatment Facilities Ordinance regulates where residential drug treatment facilities can go.
Under the order, they must be at least 250 feet from a residential neighborhood, 500 feet from a public or parochial school and 100 feet from any other residential drug treatment facility.
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