An amendment to zoning ordinances which would allow general business districts zoned B2 to be used for a variety of conditional uses, including possible drug rehabilitation facilities, has been tabled.
That was the decision made by the Mercer County Joint Planning and Zoning Commission after holding a public hearing last week at Lions Park Community Center.
Currently, the city does not permit conditional use in B2 districts. The amendment being considered would allow conditional permission to be extended to “hospitals, clinics and similar medical facilities, mental health facilities, nursing homes, convalescent homes, rest homes, orphanages, rehabilitation homes, assisted living homes, family care centers/providers, day care centers/providers and shelters for the homeless.”
The meeting had been moved from city hall because of concerns about the crowd size, but only a handful of people showed up and only four spoke.
One speaker questioned whether a drug rehabilitation clinic was appropriate for the downtown area. She said the clinic would increase foot traffic, strain parking and hamper efforts to expand business opportunities.
She said there were alternatives and asked why the organizations could not negotiate with private landlords to provide housing for the homeless.
Mark LaPalme of Isaiah House said Mercer County is not growing.
“It seems to be going a bit backwards,” LaPalme said. He said Isaiah House or another recovery center would reduce crime and said the facility has reduced crime in Washington County by 50-percent since relocating there in 2008.
“We enhance a neighborhood,” LaPalme said. He said Isaiah House has led to other businesses being located in Willisburg. The Willisburg facility is now a satellite of Campbellsville University. “We enhance the neighborhood every time.”
LaPalme said a proposed Isaiah House location on Chestnut Street sits next to two meth houses. He said there were people living in a house with no water or electricity. He said the clients at the proposed long term treatment facility would be employed and spending money every day in the local community.
LaPalme said it was incumbent on local residents to work together to solve the drug problem. “We can be part of the problem or we can be part of the solution,” he said.
Drew Hardgrove agreed with LaPalme that there is a problem, but he asked the planning and zoning commissioners to consider their decision carefully.
Hardgrove gave a brief rundown of the drug war, which has led the United States to incarcerate more people than any other first world country.
“We’re now looking at the end result of that,” Hardgrove said.
Hardgrove said he wasn’t a NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) kind of guy, but he said officials need to do due diligence on Isaiah House and other agencies before making a move.
While Planning and Zoning Executive Director Shawn Moore did not prepare a report, Moore said the proposed zoning change was not compatible.
“This is not the right zoning classification,” Moore said. He said Isaiah House using the Trimmasters Plant as a corporate headquarters would be allowed under current zoning regulations, but running a drug treatment center in the basement is not.
Chairman Adam Johnson said the proposed amendment would give the city more control. Johnson said applicants would have to appear before the board of adjustments. But Commissioner Mike Harden, noting the opposition of at least one business owner, moved to postpone a vote until next month.
“We might want to table it and let it sink in for a month or so,” Harden said.
The motion passed, 4-2, with Commissioners Bobby Upchurch and Daarik Gray voting against. In the meantime, Commissioner Upchurch asked Moore to look at other communities and ask where shelters and treatment centers were permitted.
This is not the first setback in Isaiah House’s plans to expand services into Mercer County. While they opened a 16-bed drug treatment facility for women on Bohon Road in May, the Mercer County Joint Board of Adjustments failed to approve a conditional use permit for a second facility on Bohon Road in March.
The next meeting of the Mercer County Joint Planning and Zoning Commission will be on Tuesday, July 9, at 5:30 p.m. at 208 South Main Street.
Find the rest of the story on page 1A of this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald or click here to subscribe.