County OKs group-home buffers, wants homes registered

Feb. 25, 2013 @ 10:08 PM

County Commissioners on Monday extended to rural Durham the same requirement as the city that group and family care home be separated by at least 1,125 feet from similar facilities.

The decision came on a 4-1 vote after a lot more debate the City Council conducted last month when it established the buffer rule for properties inside the city limits.

Commissioners agreed the buffer requirement in itself is only a first step and voted 5-0 to ask administrators to start working on a registration system for the targeted homes.

That way, Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said, residents can know who’s operating homes so they can act as “the eyes and ears for their neighborhoods” in reporting problems.

The only dissenting vote on the actual buffer came from Commissioner Michael Page, and then only because he thought creating a buffer wouldn’t, by itself, be a strong enough move.

In adopting the 1,125-foot buffer, both the city and county and county were responding to east Durham activists who’ve complained about the rising number of group and family care homes in their part of the community.

City/county zoning law defines a family care home as one for up to 6 people who living together because they’re disabled or in some sort of specialized treatment program. A group home can have seven to 13 people.

Planners track them by securing from the state a list of the family care and group homes it licenses, City/County Planning Director Steve Medlin said.

East Durham activist Vivian McCoy urged officials to gather more information about the care operations. She said it’s obvious that some in her part of the city aren’t well managed.

Residents see clients of the homes “walk the streets 24 hours drinking beer,” McCoy said, adding that it’s important to figure out who the actual owners of homes are.

Reckhow noted that both Raleigh and Charlotte ask operators to register. Raleigh’s one-page form asks for “all the key data, a lot of the key data, that you’d want to know,” she said. “We could even make this Web-based, conceivably.”

Medlin said his office could likely handle a registration process with its present staff and budget.

But if officials eventually ask for some sort of local inspection program for group and family care homes, “that’s not something we in the Planning Department are [presently] geared up to do,” he said, hinting that inspections would cost taxpayers more money.

Medlin also cautioned the commissioners that the Planning Department can only deal with zoning issues. Some of the complaints neighborhood activists have about the homes are about issues that would fall in the jurisdiction of other local agencies or even the state.