Willow Way residents voice more concerns over SRS

May 14, 2013

Frank Lewis

PDT Staff Writer

Residents of Willow Way and surrounding streets spoke out at Portsmouth City Council Monday and asked Council to intervene and support the zoning laws of the city, in the wake of the announcement that Scioto Residential Services has purchased the property at 3008 Willow Way to turn it into a residential home for people with developmental disabilities.

Officials at Scioto Residential Services say they are in the process of making a residence at 3008 Willow Way into a residential home for a handful of people with developmental disabilities.

“We purchased a home up there,” Jennifer Meade, director of Scioto Residential Services, said at the time of the announcement. “It’s going to be a residential home for three or four individuals. They are all developmentally disabled. They have to be to be eligible for our services.”

Jan Bailey, a Willow Way resident, said she has learned more about the situation since the first time she addressed Council several months ago.

“Their attorney is stressing that it (opposition) would be a federal civil rights violation,” Bailey said. “Our issue is not about who is in the house. Our issue is that this is a commercial type property in our neighborhood. We have a deed restriction that is being violated, that they have to be a single private family residence. That has been completely ignored by SRS. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to speak because we believe that needs to be re-examined. If we can let something like this in to a residential neighborhood with deed restrictions, what’s it going to be without deed restrictions?”

She said the move would most likely lower the value of the homes of those who live in that neighborhood.

“I have talked to some of our neighbors, and our plans are to in another year or so, come back and ask for a decrease in our property taxes, because why are we paying the highest property taxes in town when a commercial type property can come right into our neighborhood,” Bailey said. “The director of SRS is just one woman. I talked to her the other day, and she just makes these decisions as to where these houses go, and she doesn’t even live in Portsmouth.”

Lois Fitch is a long time resident of Portsmouth and lives in the very same block of the proposed group home.

“We need to examine, improve, and enforce our zoning laws,” Fitch said. “We need to ensure that our zoning laws encourage people to come here, and to locate, and to invest and to live in our neighborhoods. We want to be a community of choice in the area, but we’re not right now. As a long term resident, I would like to ask you not to allow any more destabilization of our neighborhoods and our city.”

More speakers weighed in on the issue.

“I understand the culture which they are trying to provide to their residents,” Melissa Hutchins said. “I understand that. Most businesses do provide that kind of culture. It builds teamwork. It builds unity. A lot of facilities do that, and I applaud them in that. But that is not the issue. The issue is they are violating the deed restriction and I’m not 100 percent certain that they are not violating zoning. And that is the point that we’re trying to make.”

Also speaking in favor of enforcing what they perceive as zoning violations were Mike Spencer and Jerry Skiver.

Portsmouth Mayor David Malone told those in attendance, “I definitely understand your questions and your concerns. We had a meeting. You came to our office and discussed. And I looked into some of the questions that you have, and made sure that we were doing what we were supposed to do as far as enforcing whatever laws, and zoning issues that are on the books. I am confident that the process that is taking place has been followed to the T.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Gene Meadows spoke during individual ward reports.

“In my review of the statutes of the ordinances of Portsmouth, I believe they (Willow Way residents) are right. The last revision that I can see of the zoning ordinance is 1946,” Meadows said. “A lot has changed. In fact, I’m not so sure that most of those houses up in that area were even there when the zoning came into play. There are issues that were common in 1946 that aren’t now. And it looks like it will fall under my committee (Legal, Legislative and Safety), so we need to start working on the zoning ordinances and bring them in to the 21st century. And I agree completely with Miss Fitch. It’s one way that we can get our city to be growing. The last thing we want to do is lose our residential neighborhoods.”

Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at flewis@civitasmedia.com. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.