County rejects bid for transitional home

First Posted: 1/15/2009

LUMBERTON — Although saying it is a needed facility in Robeson County, the county Board of Commissioners on Monday turned down a request for a conditional-use permit that would allow a transitional home for women to be established in Fairmont.
Rosa Smith, a Lumberton resident and pastor of Straightway Deliverance Church, proposed locating a transitional home for women coming out of prison on property next to her church on Straightway Drive. As proposed, the home would have temporarily housed six to eight women who would be required to get a job and follow strict rules that include no smoking, no drinking, no drugs and no male visitors.
It would have been a Level II home, meaning that those who are housed there were not in prison for committing the most serious offenses.
But Monday, several residents told commissioners they have concerns about such a home being located in a residential community. Lynn Oxendine, who said she was speaking on behalf of a group of residents, said there are children and elderly in the area. Safety is a concern, she said.
“These people don’t live in this community,” Oxendine said, referring to Smith and Gwen Brooks, a clinical Christian counselor from Fayetteville who would be the home’s director. “And we don’t know what those living in the home would be capable of doing.”
Pastor Earl J. Hunt said that problems — including drugs — already exist in the area and that residents are afraid a transitional home would create more problems.
“When you have invested money in a home and have children, you don’t want to do something that will add problems,” Hunt said. “These people already have enough problems and chaos in their community without having to look over their shoulders all the time for more problems.”
But Smith defended her proposal.
“We are not trying to hurt anyone,” Smith said. “When inmates come out of prison many of them don’t have a place to go. We want to try to help them get back into the community and keep them from ending up back on the streets.”
Pastor Linda Moody, of Fairmont, said that Smith has done good works throughout the community and that a transitional home is a good idea.
“You never know what is going to happen to you in the future,” she said. “These are just people who have gotten messed up along the way and need help.”
Despite the Planning Board’s recommendation that the conditional-use permit be approved, the commissioners voted six to two for denial. Commissioners Hubert Sealey and Jerry Stephens voted in favor of the permit.
Commissioner Raymond Cummings agreed that such a home is “obviously needed,” but said: “We are concerned about keeping harmony in the community. It is a great concept, but it needs to be in the right community and environment. We want folks to get along.”
Commissioner Tom Taylor raised several questions about security.
“People are upset that those at the home will be walking around their community,” Taylor told Smith. “You don’t know what these folks might do.”
Both Commissioners Sealey and Stephens were open to giving the home a chance.
“I am always impressed with the work you do,” Stephens told Smith.
At the recommendation of its attorney, the board on Monday rescheduled for May 19 a public hearing on a conditional-use permit request that if approved would pave way for a group home in Lumber Bridge.
Attorney Hal Kinlaw said that a Sharen Prevatte, area director for Southeastern Regional Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, could not attend Monday’s meeting. He suggested that before the May hearing, the attorney for applicant Michael Livingston meet with residents concerned about the establishment of a Level IV group home in their community.
The possibility of a group home in their neighborhood has split the community.
“This has escalated into something I never dreamed it would,” Commissioner Roger Oxendine said. “We’ve got neighbors on different sides. I know there is a lot of love in this community and I don’t want to see this happen. Let’s see if we can iron out these problems and all walk away as friends.”
In other business, the commissioners:
— Heard concerns from local animal rights activist Faith Walker, who said the state’s spay/neuter program is not being administered properly by the Robeson County Humane Society. The state program provides for eligible low income residents to get their pets spayed or neutered at a reduced cost.
“I’m not against the Humane Society,” Walker said, “but we need a Humane Society that is run properly.”
After citing several examples of what she said is mismanagement, Walker suggested that the county take over the program.
Board Chairman Noah Woods promised Walker that her concerns would be addressed. He said the county manager and county attorney will work with the Health Department to review how the spade/neuter program is being administered and make any recommendations for improvements to the commissioners.
— Approved a request by Winston P. Fox of Back Swamp that a 208-acre tract in a residential agricultural district be rezoned to heavy industrial to allow for commercial development.
— Held a public hearing on incentives that will be offered to a new industry planning to locate between Rowland and Fairmont. Only the county’s economic development director, Greg Cummings, spoke.
Known as Project Pine, the industry is expected to make a $1.5 million investment in the county and create 25 jobs that average $9 an hour plus benefits. Cummings said there will be an official announcement about the industry in late May or early June.

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