The York County Planning Commission has recommended the Board of Supervisors approve of two of three proposed group homes for the mentally disabled in Lackey on a 3-1 vote.
The proposed homes would be built and operated by Colonial Behavioral Health and would feature four residents per home along with non-resident staff who would come and go in shifts.
The homes began drawing outcry from Lackey residents weeks ago, when signs were erected and posted throughout the area. More than 25 people — many of whom were Lackey residents — spoke in opposition of the homes at a public hearing at Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting.
Their varied concerns included the effect of the homes on their property value, potential interaction between the residents of the home and children who used a nearby school bus stop, a business operating within their neighborhood zoned for residential use, an increase in traffic, the thin road in the neighborhood that would make it problematic for emergency responders to access the homes and the impact violent weather has had on the neighborhood in the past, which some residents at the meeting said has resulted in power outages of up to six weeks. They were also concerned the nature of the homes could change in the future and become homes for people with behavioral disorders and drug addictions.
The hearing packed the meeting room in York Hall with more than 100 people, filling all of the seats in the audience. Others stood along the walls in the room, while yet more people were outside the room listening to the meeting on televisions. A flier that had been distributed at the signs erected in Lackey urged people to show up to the meeting and speak up about the proposals.
The proposal was slightly amended to explicitly state the houses could not be used for anyone struggling with the illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance. It also cannot be used as a detention facility, a work release facility or a house that functions for any kind of alternative incarceration.
Many of the residents who spoke expressed skepticism at that change, saying the rules could be changed in the future to suit those uses. Planning Commission Chairman Mark Suiter told the audience nothing can change unless it goes back before the Board of Supervisors, who would then be required to examine the case for any such change.
Arthur Kamp, a Newport News-based attorney representing CBH at the meeting, said there is no chance of the homes accepting anyone other than people with severe mental handicaps. He said the youngest resident is 26 years old and the oldest is 62, and added all of them live a sedentary lifestyle.
“Several have mobility limitations due to age or physical conditions,” Kamp said.
He said it is important for the homes to be near each other, which was another point of contention for the Lackey residents who spoke out against them. Kamp said the future residents of the homes currently live in apartments and it’s important for them to stay near one another along with the businesses and library they have come to know over the years.
David Coe, the director of Colonial Behavioral Health, said there is often opposition to group homes for the mentally disabled when the homes are in the proposal stage. Once the homes are built and community members have a chance to interact with the residents, they tend to embrace them within a few years.
Some of the residents who spoke said they were “shocked” and “appalled” the planners would even consider such a proposal.
“We did our research to find where we live,” said Kathy Robbins. “I’m appalled the county is even considering [the proposal], because we came with the expectation of this being a family neighborhood. When you have expectations of purchasing a home in a neighborhood and you do your research, your expectation is for it to remain that way.”
Another resident said she had collected a petition with 513 signatures opposing the proposal. She said she went to homes throughout Lackey, as well as homes in Grafton, Tabb and Upper York County, and five of the hundreds of people she approached declined to sign the petition.
“You have the opportunity to send them back to the drawing board,” she told the planners. “Our neighborhood shouldn’t be the guinea pig for this.”
Traffic was another concern of some of the residents, who said the home would bring lots of cars on the road during shift changes for the non-resident employees. Other residents said Colonial Behavioral Health is a business, which makes it an inappropriate candidate to use the land.
“They’re there to make money,” said one resident. “It’s not to benefit us, it’s to benefit [them]. Don’t let this happen.”
Many of the residents who spoke out against the homes prefaced their remarks by saying they supported the disabled and believed they should have a nice place to live but York County boasted plenty of other locations where that was possible.
A few other residents spoke in support of the homes.
“They deserve to get out of apartments,” resident Mary Clark said. “They deserve bedrooms for themselves. They did nothing to create the problem they have.”
Commissioner Todd Mathes was the lone vote opposing the proposal.
“I don’t think this is a great area for that,” Mathes said. “It’s not even a good area. Going from zero to three in one very concentrated area may be a bridge too far. That’s obviously a breaking point for the majority of residents.”
Suiter along with commissioners Glenn Brazelton and Richard Myer voted in support of the project, though they each raised concerns. Brazelton brought up issues with traffic and the road around the properties, while Suiter said the parking and traffic were a problem.
The planners also amended their resolution to support two of the homes on adjacent parcels on the 200 block of Spring Road. A third house on nearby Sycamore Lane was rejected by the planners as being too difficult to access due to narrow roads, drainage problems and a lack of backyard space.
The 3-1 vote recommends the proposal to the Board of Supervisors, who will take the planning commission’s recommendation into account when they make their final decision on the matter. A date for the matter to go before the supervisors has yet to be set but will likely happen within a few months.
The proposed homes would each be about 2,600 square feet and would have up to six employees on site at any one time, though Coe said that number would typically be closer to three.
“The houses would look like other homes on the road,” Coe said in an interview with WYDaily earlier this month. “They are the same homes built in other communities. The only difference is who is living inside. Neighbors will look across the street and see just another house.”