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Group homes draw concern
Nov 25, 2005 12:00 am
November 23, 2005
A group of city officials have agreed to meet Wednesday morning to discuss recent complaints about two group houses located on the south edge of Cumberland University's campus.
The houses – 316 and 320 McClain Ave. – are part of the Wilson County Youth Ranch, an organization that provides adoption and other services for troubled, disturbed, delinquent or abused children and adolescents in state custody.
Wilson Country Youth Ranch Executive Director Ron Smith explained the ranch operates three group homes, seven "community cottages" and eight foster homes in the area. Smith said the two houses on McClain Avenue are community cottages and are less structured than group homes.
Recent activity in and around the houses in question has drawn the ire of neighbors concerned their presence has led to an increase in crime in the area as well as a general deterioration of the neighborhood, city officials said.
City Councilor William Farmer, whose Ward 3 district includes McClain Avenue, was acting on behalf of a constituent when he asked Lebanon Public Works Commissioner Jeff Baines, City Planner Magi Tilton and City Attorney Andy Wright to advise him on the legality of any or all group homes in the area, according to an e-mail obtained by The Lebanon Democrat.
Among the questions Farmer asked were, "Is a Group Home operation permitted by the present zoning law?" and "If the operation is not legal – what can be done?"
"This issue has been addressed previously, and we were advised we could not prevent the Group Home from locating in these locations," Baines replied to the e-mail.
But City Attorney Andy Wright said Monday it all depends on what the houses are being used for.
"There are different restrictions for different types of groups homes," he said. "Because 'group home' is a very generic term."
Once the city is able to determine what exactly the homes are being used for, "then there are several things we can look at in terms of legal rights for concerned neighbors," Wright explained.
Such a determination will be up to Baines, Wright said.
Baines said Monday he believes one of the two houses in question is a halfway house for juveniles and young men.
"To my knowledge there have never been any problems there; we have never had any complaints," he said.
But the police have responded to numerous complaints at both addresses.
City records show the Lebanon Police Department responded to 14 separate incidents at 320 McClain Ave. since March. Seven of those calls were for runaway juveniles, and other calls included disorderly conduct, assault and harassment.
Additionally in the past five months alone, Lebanon police have responded to 15 incidents at 316 McClain Ave. Those calls were for disorderly conduct, assault, theft, a runaway juvenile and a house fire, among others.
But Smith said the high number of calls is the result of house parents being encouraged to contact the police at the first sign of conflict or danger.
"We try to create a very safe enviromnet there," Smith said. "We don't want children there who are going to be threatening to other children or the house parents, and we're doing to do everything we can to prevent that from happening."
Smith said his organization services between 100 and 115 children every day, and only a few bad apples are contributing to a negative community response.
Bobby Wood of Mt. Juliet confirmed ownership of the two houses through BSR Investments.
Bobby Wood and Steven Wood, the property manager at both residences, said Monday they were unaware of any problems or complaints at either address.
"I've been in those homes at least once every few months, and twice in the last two weeks, and I've never been to either house and seen any kids unsupervised or be disrespectful," Steven Wood said.
Wright, Baines and Tilton said they are waiting until after Wednesday's meeting to take any action.
"We're just trying to get all of our information together and then make a response to Mr. Farmer," Tilton said.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at email@example.com.