City approves separation rule for group homes

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 08:38 PM

City Council members this week unanimously approved an ordinance that requires two types of group homes to locate at least 1,125 feet away from similar operations.
The decision came after a city/county planner blunted the qualms of Durham Rescue Mission founder Ernie Mills, who had worried the separation requirement could affect the mission’s current and future operations.
Assistant City/County Planning Director Pat Young spoke to Mills before the start of Monday’s council meeting. He said later that the mission doesn’t fall under the new ordinance because its work isn’t state-regulated.
Young also told the council that the ordinance will only affect new group and family care homes, not those that already exist.
“Any existing, lawfully established facility is not subject to” the buffer rule, he said.
Mills opted not to address the council. The mission operates at the corner of East Main Street and Alston Avenue and is in the midst of an expansion. It controls and uses property on two other blocks.
Neighborhood activists from Old East Durham spoke up to support passage of the separation requirement.
They said officials started working on the proposal in response to their complaints about a cluster of group homes in their neighborhood that didn’t appear to be particularly well maintained or well regulated.
That sort of thing “drives good neighbors away” and also doesn’t benefit group-home clients who need a place in the mainstream of community life, said Chloe Palenchar, one of the Old East Durham activists who favored passage.
Council members voted immediately after Mayor Bill Bell closed the hearing on the ordinance. They approved it without debate.
Monday’s meeting also saw the council OK a proposal to give County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow a seat on Triangle Transit’s board of directors that’s now held by Commissioner Michael Page.
The move is part of a seat swap between Reckhow and Page that for now will allow Page to stay on the board of a local nonprofit, Operation Breakthrough, while Reckhow continues on the Triangle Transit board.
It also allows the commissioners’ chairman, Fred Foster, to take a county controlled seat on the Triangle Transit board Reckhow had held from 2005 to now.
Commissioners approved the Reckhow/Page swap last week. The seat Page held is by state law jointly controlled by the city and county. Bell rounds out the Durham delegation on the transit agency board, holding a seat controlled solely by the city.