Commission delays decision on homeless facility

Thu, 01/21/2010 - 4:25pm
By: Ben Nelms

A lengthy discussion before Coweta County commissioners Jan. 19 led to a postponement of the decision on the fate of the Belair Estates transitional home in north Coweta. Commissioners will take up the issue next month.

Belair Estates attorney Judy O’Brien fielded a wealth of safety-related questions from commissioners and responded to some of the concerns surfaced by a group of neighbors opposed to allowing the facility to remain open. O’Brien said the facility agreed to the 22 conditions recommended by planning department staff. In the end, commissioners decided to forego a decision on the matter until the Feb. 16 meeting.

Commissioners throughout the presentation insisted that they wanted to work with the organization to provide the needed service to the homeless in Coweta County. But, based on a visit by commissioners over the weekend and the fire safety concerns noted during the visit and in addition to previous concerns, they maintained those issues must be addressed before they could vote to approve the conditional use permit that would allow the facility to remain open.

Commissioner Randolph Collins noted the facility’s past history of fire calls and an ongoing investigation by the fire marshal as two of the reasons for his concern. Collins cited fire inspection violations such as the use of kerosene heaters by some residents and the presence of some of the those items still on the premise when he visited the facility.

O’Brien in response said that the violations from 2009 had been corrected and that the facility was is in possession of a 90-day certificate of occupancy issued in December.

Belair Executive Director Latonya Spears in response to the fire safety concerns with items such as a deep fryer and extension cords that had previously been used to operate operate cooking devices in areas other than the kitchen said those were no longer being used, even though commissioners visiting the facility found them on the property.

“Cooking downstairs was in place in 2006. We never knew it was inappropriate. The fire marshal never cited us,” Spears said.

Those addressing the board were essentially split into two camps, with area neighbors opposed to having the facility remain open while former residents and homeless advocates asked that Belair remain open.

Neighbors such as Tim Jones said he did not residents “wandering around our children,” while another, Albert Rambo, said one of the men from the transitional home had followed his son up the driveway asking him for money.

Facility advocates included former residents and family members who maintained that the facility was beneficial. Coweta school system employee David Gregory, who serves as liaison for the homeless in Coweta, asked that the transitional home remain open and cited the 100 homeless children in Coweta County. Gregory added that the transitional home serves 6-10 of the county’s homeless children.

O’Brien near the end of the discussion said Belair would support having only families reside at the facility.

Collins again stated that the service was needed in Coweta and that the board wanted to work with the facility to provide the service but added that Belair should “correct the problems if you want to stay in business.”

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