Sober living home rejected due to voting rules

by Emmitt Feldner
for The Beacon

PLYMOUTH — It won support, but not enough, so the rezoning of Turner Hall to B-2 business failed to win approval.

The City Council voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning that would enable Pathways to a Better Life to convert the upper floor of the 202 Elizabeth St. building to a sober living home for recovering abusers.

But because a majority of residents within a certain distance of the property signed petitions opposing the rezoning, city ordinances required a three-quarters vote of the council to approve the rezoning, or six of the seven current council members.

Thus, when council member Greg Hildebrand and Diane Gilson voted against the rezoning, it failed.

The rezoning was contingent on a land use agreement between the city and the property owners that would have been filed with the county Register of Deeds office.

That would have limited future uses of the property, required the owners to obtain off-street parking at their cost and designate a resident smoking area not on city sidewalks.

Milwaukee civil rights attorney Robert Pleidl, representing Pathways, said his clients recognized the concerns of their neighbors.

“That led to discussions with the city attorney on ways to reassure the neighbors and the council,” Pleidl stated.

“We believe (Pathways) will be good neighbors. We believe we came up with a path to give you all comfort with that,” Pleidl concluded.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Pathways owner and founder Susan Beattie added. “I’ve listened to a lot of the concerns and tried to address as many things as we possibly can. We should be able to keep this as sober living housing and not have any problems with future uses.”

Despite those assurances, Elizabeth Street neighbor Julia Griffith continued to urge the council to deny the rezoning.

“Constituents in all your districts have contacted you requesting a ‘no’ vote,” she told the council. “What about the precedent that would be set for B-2 to be allowed in residential neighborhoods. This would be considered spot zoning.”

Council member John Nelson warned that, “There is quite a high likelihood of this being sent to federal court for litigation,” citing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.

He added that the cost of such litigation would come out of taxpayers’ money.

“I think they could be good neighbors, despite the fears of many, and I understand those fears,” Nelson said of the Pathways facility. “It probably would not bother me to have this next door to me.”

Council member Charles Hansen, attending the meeting remotely, noted that Willowglen Academy operated a facility for troubled youth on Reed Street “two homes down from mine,” for years.

“They lived in our community,” Hansen pointed out. ‘There were some issues but it really came down to the management of the facility.”

The meeting drew more than two dozen opponents and proponents of the rezoning request, most of whom waited in the hall outside the council chamber during a 45-minute closed session where the council discussed the rezoning ramifications with City Attorney Crystal Fieber.

Categories: News

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