BZA tables ResCare request to modify facility to house adults

Friday, August 9, 2013

A proposal to repurpose the old ResCare building at 1306 Bloomington St. in Greencastle will need some more attention to detail before it meets its Board of Zoning Appeals fate.

Tabled by the city BZA Tuesday night was a request to renovate the 10,000-square-foot building that formerly housed as many as 32 juvenile boys in a residential environment.

ResCare's proposal is to turn the building that also once housed the Even Tide Nursing Home into a residential facility for adults who are mentally ill and/or developmentally disabled. A maximum of 24 adults would reside that at one time.

After nearly two-and-a-half hours of discussion at City Hall, the project came up noticeably shy on details surrounding a safety plan, the design of fencing for the property and outdoor lighting possibilities among other issues.

After BZA panelists and audience members questioned some of those elements of the proposal, new BZA member Scott Davis summarized the status of ResCare's request for a special exception use variance on the property.

"What you're hearing," Davis said, "is, 'We don't know yet.'"

Davis was one of three new members making their initial appearance as part of the five-member BZA. Davis, Doris Miller and Wayne Lewis were sworn in to join BZA President Donnie Watson and John Phillips on the city panel.

They collectively heard concerns from more than two dozen residents living along adjoining properties on Bloomington Street, as well as neighbors at Ottawa Park Mobile Home Park.

"We want to be a good neighbor," ResCare spokesman Holly Cunningham Piggott assured. "We don't want to be a bad neighbor."

Piggott explained that the remaining 17 juvenile boys that had been living in the facility have been moved to a ResCare property north of Terre Haute.

The proposal to repurpose the building is driven by a new state program, she said, that desires to place developmentally disabled adults in a facility that offers them the best chance to become more productive. Currently such individuals are being isolated in areas of state hospital facilities.

All adults who would be sent to the revised ResCare facility would be via referrals from the state, she noted, listing the Indiana State Department of Health Division of Rehabilitative Services as the governing body.

Local staffing would be 24 hours a day, seven days a week with approximately 65 direct-care staff members and 15 administrative personnel on the roster. Overall, the staffing ratio would be 1:2 or 1:3, Piggott said, meaning one staff member for every two or every three residents.

None of the adults who might reside at the facility would be placed by the Department of Corrections nor would they have any known anti-social sexual tendencies, she stressed.

Generally, the residents would be people with "diminished cognitive ability," Piggott said, explaining they could be anywhere from "very high-functioning adults to severely autistic with limited communicative ability."

The goal is to "transition them into the least-restrictive environment," she added, explaining that a similar facility in Marion is about to send 10 residents "out to become gainfully employed."

"There's no reason they cannot," Piggott said.

However, several neighbors, still smarting from some problems with ResCare "runners" who fled the facility on several occasions over the years and ended up on adjoining properties.

At a previous meeting when ResCare was gaining approval for its original facility, neighbors were reportedly told they would be notified any time an escape had occurred.

Maurice Butler, whose family business and residential property are both neighbors of ResCare, said nearby residents were never notified of any nefarious activity.

"Not once," he said.

While Piggott commented that neighbors were "misunderstanding the type of individuals who will be living there," several members of the audience expressed much concern. They routinely voiced fears residents might be "criminally insane" or even "psychotic" or schizophrenic.

Regardless, neighbor Doug Gannaway said, he will be moving if the change in use is allowed.

"Do you know how scary that sounds when you're talking about people (like that) being 150 feet away from my three grandchildren?" he said.

About two hours into the discussion, BZA president Watson said he was "more comfortable now than I was at the beginning" of the meeting, adding that he was more at ease knowing there will be security fencing in place.

That calm was shattered a moment or two later when an audience member asked Piggott "on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, how paranoid should we be?"

"About a six," she replied. "But once they move in and you come over, you'll find out it's not as bad as you think."

Gannaway responded quickly to that assessment.

"I'm at 11," he said. "I'm terrified."

Meanwhile, City Planner Shannon Norman offered a proposed list of conditions that she would like to see accompany any approval of a use variance. She cited:

-- The maximum number of residents at one time be capped at 24.

-- The facility be permitted only to house adults.

-- The petitioner provide the city with a detailed list of security measures in place for the facility.

-- Fencing details be made available for review by the public before further consideration by the BZA.

-- An outdoor lighting plan also be submitted.

With a desire to see details of the fencing and security measures planned for the facility -- which is projected as 3-6 months from opening anyway -- Watson made the motion to table the proposal.

After Phillips' second, votes by Lewis, Davis and Miller made it unanimous to table the request.

The next regular scheduled meeting of the Greencastle BZA is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 3 at City Hall.

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