A house near Martinez Elementary School that has come under scrutiny for its location and the transitional program it offers is properly zoned to allow such activity, Columbia County Commission was told Tuesday night.
County Attorney Doug Batchelor told the commission that he interprets the structure's zoning - gift shop/residence - as allowing such a program that focuses on returning people who have violated alcohol laws back into society.
The program is called New Creation Christian Transitional Housing, and it accepted its first resident in September. At the present, it has three residents.
Batchelor said the zoning allows a personal-care-type residence and that the law and court cases have established that those who are recovering from alcohol abuse are to be considered in the same category as those in personal-care homes.
After hearing Batchelor's opinion, the commission didn't vote on the matter. It did, however, allow public comment.
Jewel Pennington, a spokeswoman for those opposed to the facility's location and the mother of a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Martinez Elementary, told the commission that she represented 369 residents in the area who had signed a petition for the county to reconsider the home's zoning.
"What we are saying is it is a very bad location for young children,'' she said, referring to New Creation's location directly across the street from Martinez Elementary. She said she worries about those who might have a relapse. "As a community, we have offered to come together and find them a different residence.''
Commissioner Tommy Mercer asked whether the county could change the zoning where the center is. Batchelor said that the county could act on its own initiative but that in such a case there would be a high likelihood of a lawsuit.
The attorney said that if the home's owner requested an addition onto the house, then such a change would go before the commission to approve or disapprove.
Tonya Weeks, the executive director of New Creation, told the commission that it was never her intention to cause a controversy or put children in harm's way. The goal of the home is to shift people back into society, she told the commission.
She said she believes that no matter where the home is located, some of those living nearby would likely oppose it. Weeks said those in the program participate voluntarily and pay to be there. She said they have to have 28 days of documented sobriety before they can enter the home. There are no violent offenders in the facility, she said, and two of the three residents have a DUI violation, while the third has a violation of drinking under age and an open-container violation. Weeks said that if residents had a relapse, they would not be allowed back in the home.
In other action, the county commission announced that a date has been set for the closing of the county's Baker Place Road Landfill.
Commissioner Steve Brown told those at the meeting that the landfill, which is off Columbia Road in Appling, will close Jan. 31.
The landfill was built to last 10 years and is reaching its allowed capacity. When the landfill closes, Columbia County's trash will be taken to a Richmond County landfill. Columbia County residents should still be able to haul items such as refrigerators to a transfer station being planned by a regional company on Columbia Road near the landfill.
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