Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

March 20, 2014

County OKs resolution for halfway house regulations

By Gary Nelson
Senior staffwriter

CROSSVILLE — After a large group of residents from the Meridian Community attended last month's Cumberland County Commission meeting to voice concerns regarding the possible opening of a transitional living house for women who are recovering from drug addiction, county commissioners held a work session with the residents and then approved a resolution during Monday's county commission meeting, requesting the state to regulate transitional houses.

At the work session, county attorney Randal Boston explained there was no zoning in Cumberland County, so regulation of such facilities falls under the operation of the state of Tennessee.

At the work session earlier this month, Mike Garrett, pastor of Meridian Baptist Church and president of the Bridges of the Upper Cumberland board of directors, the group that was proposing the transitional living house, said the board had withdrawn its offer to lease the facility from the church.

"I can say it won't happen at Meridian for sure. I promise you that," Garrett said.

The group is considering other locations in the county, though.

Resolution 03-2014-02 is a resolution that requests the state of Tennessee's governing body to consider increasing regulations in transitional houses/halfway houses by specifically establishing a minimum of 2,500 feet distance between said facilities and established residences (homes), churches, daycares, schools, parks and other facilities frequented by the public.

The resolution further states the Cumberland County Commission understands there is a need for such facilities for those with substance abuse problems and the county has concerns in regards to those facilities and their location in the community in relation to certain facilities.

"The Cumberland County Commission lacks the ability to control proposed locations of such facilities and has concerns that, if said housing facilities were allowed to be placed within small communities, that such a sudden introduction could significantly influence the makeup and safety of the affected communities ... and a significant decline in the economic well being of the small communities could be highly affected by the operation of such facilities within Cumberland County without regulation as to location, security and other matters," the resolution states.

Harry Sabine, 1st District Cumberland County commissioner, expressed his concern about the resolution.

"The spirit of this resolution is good. But it is a waste of time. The state will say, if you want these regulations, then you need to approve zoning in the county. The state won't touch it without it. We are deceiving you with this resolution. The state is going to say this is up to you...," Sabine said.

Carmin Lynch, 9th District commissioner, said he agreed with Sabine.

"The state gives you the option to control this (by enacting zoning). So, it is a worthless vote."

Joe Koester, 5th District commissioner, said he would like county attorney Randal Boston's opinion on the matter. Boston helped draft the resolution, which was sponsored by Cumberland County Mayor Kenneth Carey Jr.

Boston said the resolution pertained to regulations of facilities rather than the law and for meeting a certain criteria before being able to locate a facility in a community.

The purpose of the resolution is to get the state to look into the matter, Boston said.

Carey said, "This would apply the rules to all organizations that name their facility something different and attempt to avoid regulations. This would be a statewide change, not just here."

Carey said part of the problem is organizations might change the name of what they are building from a halfway house to recovery home or a care center, and then state restrictions wouldn't apply. With this resolution, "regulations would apply to any of the 25 different names you could call a facility," Carey said.

"It might be a waste, but it won't hurt us a bit to send it on to Nashville, so I'll support it," Mike Harvel, 7th District commissioner, said.

A motion to approve the resolution was made by Dave Hassler, 3rd District commissioner. It was supported by Nancy Hyder, 2nd District commissioner, and approved in a 16-1 vote.

Commissioner Sabine voted no.

Several residents of the Meridian Community attended the meeting and thanked the commissioners for their efforts with the matter.

Charles Seiber, 4th District commissioner, did not attend the meeting.

The resolution will be passed along by Carey to the Tennessee legislature and to other Tennessee counties, encouraging them to approve similar resolutions and send those the state legislature, as well.