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Zoning issues draw crowd

January 27, 2019 - 00:00
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Sober living houses hits snag; C-A center green-lighted

Two hot-button community development projects led to a record-setting Kingfisher planning and zoning meeting Thursday that lasted nearly two and a half hours and drew a standing room only crowd.

In split decisions, the board gave a thumbs up to a multiphase community center planned by the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes and two rezoning requests for Front-line Ministries, but voted against a conditional use permit that would allow the church to open sober living centers on the properties.

The city commission will have the final say on both matters at its next monthly meeting Feb. 11, City Manager Dave Slezickey said.

Mixed Results

The seven-member board voted four-to-three to approve requests from Frontline Ministries to rezone lots located at 118 and 121 E. Erwin Ave. from Residential-1 to Residential-3, with Jean Crosswhite, Carolyn Flood, Judy Whipple and Reggie Redwine voting yes and Ray Roman, Neal Brown and Eddie Payne voting no.

The R-3 designation allowed the board to consider the church’s second request, which was a conditional use permit on both properties to allow the church to open separate long-term sober living houses for up to eight men and eight women at each facility.

However, Redwine joined Roman, Brown and Payne to vote no on both conditional use permit requests, with the remainder of the board voting yes.

Slezickey said after the meeting that the split decision has the effect of keeping the issue alive for consideration by the city commission at its February meeting.

As a recommending body only, the P&Z board’s decision to approve the zoning change will have to be voted on by the city commission before it takes effect, at which point commissioners can also consider the conditional use permit.

When the P&Z votes against recommending a zoning change, the matter never goes before the full commission and the applicant’s only recourse is to appeal the decision in district court, Slezickey said.

The Church’s Plan

Ron Porter, Frontline’s associate pastor, told the P&Z board that the church’s planned Journey Centers for men and women would be 12-month sober living programs, not detox centers or clinical drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities.

“It’s a discipleship program designed to separate addicts from the environment that contributed to their self-destruction,’ he said.

Participants would be required to have at least 10 days of sobriety before entering the program and would be drug tested routinely to ensure they remained clean and sober.

Porter shared statistics that 11.9 percent of adults in Oklahoma struggle with some sort of drug or alcohol abuse, ranking it second in the nation.

Kingfisher County residents rank alcohol abuse first and drug abuse third among serious health issues here, he said.

Participants in the sober living programs will undergo extensive background screenings and sex offenders or those with a history of other violent behaviors will be ineligible, Porter said.

“The folks we’ll serve already live in our community,” he said. “We’re not talking about convicts, we’re talking about my neighbors and your neighbors who need help.”

Porter said the 12-month curriculum is based on the Teen Challenge program, a proven structured approach to addiction recovery that is used at centers nationwide.

The four-phase program starts with a period of no outside contact and ends with a plan of reintegration into the community in the final phase, he said.

Residents will not be allowed vehicles, will be supervised 24 hours a day by program staff members and will be expected to follow a strict daily schedule of activities.

“We’ve adopted rules and guidelines to keep people as safe as possible,” he said. “The homes will have alarms on the doors. If anyone leaves, they can’t come back.”

In response to questions, Porter said no participants will be court-ordered to the centers.

The sobriety requirement and a $1,200 program fee will help ensure that only those who are committed to recovery will apply, he said.

Several P&Z board members attended an informational meeting hosted by Frontline last Sunday, including Crosswhite, who ultimately voted in favor of both the zoning changes and

“At the meeting Sunday, they gave an example of what one day’s schedule would be like and from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. lights out, every minute of that day was accounted for,” she said. “It will be very structured.”

In response to a question from Roman about whether the houses would provide enough space for eight people each plus a staff person, Porter said yes, adding “the only time they’ll be in the house is to sleep.”

During daylight hours, participants will be involved in classes, chapel, Christian counseling and supervised work projects, all located elsewhere on the church’s campus, he said.

Public Concerns

A number of audience members spoke against the church’s plans, primarily people who live in the neighborhood who expressed concerns about safety issues.

“I don’t believe it should be located at the center of a quiet and populated area,” Robert Wehrenberg said. “We want to keep our property values high and this will most certainly reduce them.”

“We’re also concerned for children in the neighborhood, especially Head Start and public schools,” he said. “Adding these centers will remove the feeling of safety we have now.”

Sybil Price, another neighbor, also expressed concern for school children and said the letter she received from the city said the conditional use permit would allow the property to be used like a hospital or drug and alcohol center.

“What’s to permit the next owner from doing something like that?” she asked.

Slezickey said that a change in ownership would nullify the conditional use permit and require the new owners to reapply.

“This permit would only allow this property owner (Frontline Ministries) to do this specific thing that they are requesting,” he said. “Any deviation from that would require a new permit.”

‘They’re Already Here’

“You’re worried about the kids, but these people are already out there guys,” Dawn Kornele said. “Addicts are in the community already and Frontline is trying to take them into a controlled environment and help them make positive changes.”

Debbie Burpo, Front-line’s senior pastor, said “we’re very sensitive to the safety concerns of our neighbors.”

“I have grandchildren that walk that street everyday and we have 60-70 children at our church every Wednesday,” she said. “We are very aware of the risk and our goal is to maintain structure and security to keep these people sober and safe.”

Burpo noted that she is more concerned about the dangers faced by local children “living in the midst of addiction.”

She also said that the homes won’t have any signage and will look like any other well-maintained residence from the outside.

“We have improved the appearance of the neighborhood since we’ve been there,” she said. “We’re in the process of building a Family Life Center that will include a gymnasium, kitchen and classrooms that will be available to the entire community.”

Noting that a trailer was stolen from the church lot in recent weeks, Burpo said “crime is already happening,” and added that the point of the sober living facilities is to help control the addictions that often drive people to criminal activity.

Cheyenne-Arapaho Plans

If the city commission approves the zoning commission’s recommendation to rezone the former location of the Kingfisher Regional Hospital, a community center and gymnasium will replace a longtime vacant lot.

Kendricks Sleeper and George Woods of the Cheyenne-Arapaho Tribes presented a conceptual drawing for the two-phase center, which will include an 8,700 square-foot community center plus an attached 6,450 square-foot building containing a full-size basketball gym and indoor walking track.

“It will be fore the use of tribal members, but it will also be open to the public,” Woods said.

Among the amenities planned for the building are a media room with computers that children may use to complete school work.

Tami ZumMallen, who also spoke in favor of the facility, said many families who don’t have internet access at home are now taking their children to McDonald’s to use the restaurant’s wifi at night.

“After the library closes, there’s not really another place available locally,” she said.

The tribal community center is tentatively anticipating regular hours of 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and may be used for special events later in the evening.

Neighbors expressed concern about whether changing the zoning from residential to commercial would open up the neighborhood to further commercial development.

Slezickey said the C-3 designation specifically includes community centers, while any other commercial designation would require a conditional use permit for the project.

No residential zones include community centers among their permitted conditional uses, he said.

The tribe and other neighbors pointed out that other business activity is located in the same area and the center would involve less noise and traffic than the hospital, which was permitted as a conditional use of the residential zoning designation at the time of its operation.

Another neighbor, Janet Clark, said she moved into her house when the hospital was still in operation and can vouch for the noise and traffic congestion caused by helicopter landings, ambulances and patient and visitor traffic.

“All I want to know is whether it will be maintained once it’s constructed,” she said, and received assurances from tribal representatives that it would be.

“If it looks like the one in Clinton, it will be just beautiful,” she said.

Oklahoma City attorney Jerry Jones, whose wife owns property in the neighborhood, was the primary opponent of the project, which he said would permanently change a neighborhood that is in the process of improving.

He said he had no objection to the center itself, “just put it in Dover.”

If the zoning change is OK’ed by the commission, final designs for the center will have to be approved before construction begins.

In other business, the P&Z board approved a final plat for Edgewater Estates, a new housing development located south of Will Rogers Drive and east of 13th Street, west of the existing Harvey Brown addition.