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September 5, 2004

Work halted on home for deaf, mentally ill men

From:, AL - Sept 5, 2004

Sunday, September 05, 2004
News staff writer

The City of Gardendale has stopped renovations on a house in the Garden View neighborhood that would be a home for three deaf, mentally ill men.

The city halted work at 285 Herschel Drive because of work permit and business license problems, not the house's intended use, city officials said.

Mayor Kenny Clemons said work won't resume until the house owner, the Jefferson/Blount/ St. Clair Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority, presents its housing plans in writing.

After the plan has been received, city officials and attorneys will meet with officials of the authority. Then work probably can resume.

"What we are trying to do is establish a specialized home for three men who are deaf and are suffering from mental illness," said Dr. Richard Craig of the authority. "There are several such homes in place in the area. We operate one in Center Point, and I believe another sponsor may have one in the Fultondale area."

Craig said the house is not a group home, which is defined as a facility with four or more residents. "A group home requires special zoning," he said. "We can establish a home with three residents within residential zoning."

Some neighbors told city officials they are unhappy that a house in a residential area may house mentally ill patients who have required institutionalization. The neighbors said they learned of the proposed use when they talked to construction workers at the house.

Neighbors met with Craig and Clemons at the house to express their concerns. Clemons then sent a letter to all area residents to provide information on the facility, and the city's response.

"We have been living here over 21 years," said Ruth Sims, who lives next door to the house with her retired husband, Robert. "This is horrible for the neighborhood. It's having a mental institution next door.

"We think it's a shame that something like this could happen in a residential neighborhood. I'll be afraid to go outside my house."

Craig said the house is being remodeled to include a sprinkler system and required emergency exits. The three residents will have three non-resident caretakers working eight hour shifts for 24-hour care. The caretakers will provide transportation to any off-site therapy the men require.

"Anyone driving by will see a house with a minivan and perhaps a car in the driveway," Craig said. "It will be just like any other house on the block."

Clemons said the city is requiring the owners to comply with standards that anyone else would have to meet. "The federal disabilities act gives them vast leeway in what they can do," the mayor said, "but it does not allow them to disregard the ordinances of the city."

Craig said there is little doubt the house will be opened. "I can't say what kind of timetable we're looking at," he said. "We still have to meet with the city to make sure we comply, and we will address any concerns the people may have."

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