ROCK HALL — “Nothing can happen until all that’s properly done,” Town Manager Bob Resele said at a mayor and council meeting Thursday, Oct. 14, referring to the licenses needed for Kent Center’s forthcoming group home in Rock Hall.
The group home, located at 21311 Lee St., would be Kent Center’s 18th group home in the county.
The four-bedroom home would likely house three residents, with the possibility of a fourth moving in later.
Before it is occupied, however, the home needs the proper licensing from the Developmental Disabilities Administration and the Office of Health Care Quality, and approval from the town.
In a previous interview with the Kent County News, Kent Center Executive Director Wesley Campbell said the license for the Lee Street house should be issued in the next few weeks.
Once issued, Kent Center’s application to open the group home will be given to Chris Jakubiak, the Rock Hall planning and zoning administrator.
At Rock Hall’s council meeting Oct. 4, Jakubiak said that while the town does not permit group homes in R1 zoning, where Lee Street is zoned, state and federal law supersedes the town.
He said the application will likely be approved based on the Federal Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states a municipality must grant reasonable and necessary accommodation for a person to live in a community where everyone else can if they ask for it.
Jakubiak said that a four-person home for disabled people is a family, according to state law.
“What the town can do is make stipulations related to the license if they feel the license doesn’t incorporate enough concerns,” Mayor Dawn Jacobs said at the meeting. “Things like 24/7 supervision and things that are of concern to the council.”
“The bottom line is, as Chris talked about in the last meeting, we can turn it down, but because of discrimination, the federal and state can step in,” Vice Mayor Carolyn Jones said. “At one time or another it might just be out of our hands, but we’re following the protocol.”
Several community members were present at the meeting and spoke against opening the home on Lee Street.
George Jones, a resident on Ann Street, said Jacobs and Resele gave their blessing to Campbell for the group home.
“Not me personally, I didn’t get involved,” Jacob said. “Sir, I’ve never spoken to the man (Campbell).”
George Jones said Resele called Jacobs a liar in a meeting they had. He said Resele told him Jacobs did know about the group home, and her claiming she knew nothing was a lie.
“Now George, I’ve got to correct you, I didn’t hear anybody call anybody a liar,” said Bill Dempsey, Rock Hall police chief, who was there for the initial meeting between George Jones and Resele.
“We’ve got another one here then,” George Jones said.
“Are you calling me a liar, George?” Dempsey asked.
George Jones said yes.
After more back and forth, Dempsey said he would escort George Jones out, though it did not come to that.
“Here’s the beauty of having a mayor and council, is regardless of what is said and what’s not said, neither Dawn nor Bob nor any single one of us has any authority to speak on behalf of the entire town,” Councilman James Cook said. “When the time comes, we will have the opportunity to vote on it as a council, and that’s the beauty of it. None of us can promise anything.”
“I’m fighting for my property. You can believe that. And I know I’m not getting any help from the town. You can believe that,” George Jones said.
George Jones said there is R2 housing available, and he does not know why Kent Center is pushing to move into an R1 zone.
“Now, on these lies, I don’t have no trouble going to court, with a lawyer and putting people on the stand,” George Jones said. “Don’t call me a liar. I’m not a liar.”
George Jones thanked Cook for coming to the property to take a look at it.
During public comment, Carol Jones, George’s wife, spoke about the problems their neighborhood, alleging break-ins, overdoses, shootings and drugs being dealt out of houses.
“We haven’t had to call the law too often, we feel like we have a nice cohesive neighborhood, so we’re concerned about the group home, not knowing what could possibly be put there,” Carol Jones said.
Carol Jones said there were some contingencies that could be put in place so the neighbors could protect themselves.
“We want to be good neighbors too, but we also realize we don’t know who’s going to be there,” Carol Jones.
She said the addition of a stop sign, speed limit signs, the application of a noise ordinance and ensuring no one is at the Civic Center after dark — and no one is drinking or smoking there — are just a few things she can think of.
“We as a neighborhood deserve as much consideration and protection as the people who are going to be living there,” Carol Jones said.
“Speaking for myself, I think they’re all excellent suggestions. I would suggest you would put them in writing to us,” Jacobs said.
Carol Jones said based on how “this all happened,” she was unsure if there were protocols for bringing developments like the group home into the community.
Jacobs said she thinks that at some point a community conversation should be held with Kent Center representatives involved. The conversation would allow for the presentation of understandings, concerns and limitations as the process moves forward.
Scott Hyland, whose mother lives next to the Kent Center house, spoke on behalf of his mother at the meeting.
“My biggest complaint here is 100% protocol,” Hyland said. “This isn’t how you bring something into the neighborhood.”
Hyland said his attorney told him to ask the mayor and council to investigate.
“You’re bringing in something totally new to the neighborhood that’s never been there before,” Hyland said, comparing it to a service station.
Hyland said the town has not supported local residents at all throughout this process.
Hyland said a planning and zoning attorney should be involved in the conversation.
“I agree with everything the town attorney said, I agree with everything Chris Jakubiak said, I just don’t agree with how it’s applied to Rock Hall,” Hyland said of prohibiting group homes in certain areas within the town’s zoning. “If you didn’t have ‘group home’ written in your zoning, I agree with them 100%.”
Hyland said they are going to appeal the decision should Kent Center get the license.
“I don’t want my elderly mother next door to an unknown, and you don’t know until you get it,” Hyland said.
“Lot of excellent points folks, I heard them. I’d like to get some answers from some sources, to be honest. We’ll see what happens, that’s all I can say right now,” Jacobs said at the end of the public session.