CALLANDS — Sue Fowler and her husband, Don, are considering selling their house and moving because an addiction recovery group home for women will remain their next door neighbor.
November will mark the couple’s 20th anniversary living in the neighborhood, but Fowler said they aren’t excited about it anymore.
“It’s nothing to celebrate,” she said. “Our property value took a nosedive.”
At a Tuesday meeting for the Pittsylvania County Board of Zoning Appeals, more than 50 people spoke during a public hearing about whether the facility, which has been operating since May, should receive the special use permit it needs to continue. The board voted 6-1 to approve the permit.
Nestled in a small community in Cascade, the Hope Center group home is a log-cabin type facility with only its long, winding driveway visible from the main road. Eleven women currently live there, along with Tanya Walker, the Danville director.
Hope Center Ministries, a Christian organization with 15 recovery locations worldwide, first opened the Cascade center without obtaining any permits. The move came after the board of zoning appeals shot down in January a previous attempt to open a women’s group home elsewhere in the county. That vote followed a petition against the request on the grounds of safety and neighborhood property values.
Travis Byrd, the regional director for Hope Center Ministries, told the Register & Bee when they went to the Pittsylvania County Community Development office, they were told the Cascade location was remote enough they shouldn’t have any problems with their neighbors.
“We have a private home that is basically, by design, out of sight and out of mind,” Byrd said.
Karen Hayes, Pittsylvania County deputy director of zoning, could not be reached for this story.
“They did this illegally,” Fowler said of the center initially opening without a special use permit.
The lone voice of opposition Tuesday among board members, Leon Griffith, of Cascade, also expressed displeasure with the group moving in before obtaining a permit.
“It’s not right to just sneak into a place and then expect a board like ours to have to vote on something that’s morally right,” he said.
He made a motion to deny the permit and give the Hope Center six months to regroup and relocate.
At the meeting, people shared passionate stories about the impact Hope Center Ministries has made in their lives. Many from the Axton men’s center talked about their journey to get clean, while others from Compassion Church — a partner with the Hope Center in Cascade — spoke of the women who are in the women’s center now.
Becca Pearman, 36, described her middle class life she has now, as well as the destruction that addiction caused through the majority of her life. She totaled four cars and was sticking needles in her arm. She said the types of programs offered by Hope Center are effective because they teach a new way of life.
“It focuses on a heart change, which leads to a behavioral change,” she said.
Fowler said she is confused about why the board gave a permit to this facility when it denied a nearly identical permit from the same organization in January.
“I’d like for somebody to tell me why the board voted to not allow them at Walnut Creek, but voted to allow them here,” she asked.
Griffith felt the same way.
“How can we say that this situation is different from the one we had before?” he asked.
Emily Bradley, now living at the Cascade group home, described how residents named the animals and waved at neighbors as an expression of their affection for the little community of Cascade.
“We didn’t know that we weren’t wanted in the community,” she said as she began to tear up. “It broke our hearts [to find out].”
Jackie Lynch, wife of Compassion Church pastor Jeff Lynch, said they fully trust the women in the facility.
“We leave them at our church,” Lynch said.
Kenneth Talbott, chairman of the the board of zoning appeals, repeatedly asked people to be brief, focus on facts and even to just state their position. The hearing went on for hours, though, with more than 50 people sharing in total.
“All of the input tonight was extremely motivational. Not all of it was useful,” Talbott said Tuesday evening.
Dwayne Adams, another nearby neighbor, said the traffic coming in because of the center will present a safety issue. He also complained the value of his home will drop.
“It’s not speculative; it’s a decrease in value,” he said.
His wife, Tiffany Adams, voiced concern about the distance of the group home from the closest law enforcement and hospital.
“I have grave concerns about the response time of law enforcement in the event of a crisis,” she said.
Byrd described the ministry with four primary adjectives: Christ-centered, live-in, long-term and work therapy. About 58% of their graduates are still sober, which trumps the statistics for most rehab and recovery facilities, he said.
“One thing that we’re not speculating is the success of this program, the safety of this program,” he said.
The residents go through a significant vetting process, he said, and those coming from the courts or jail must be specifically chosen as good candidates.
Fowler was disappointed with the decision and feels she was not properly protected by her representatives.
“My rights were completely ignored for people who aren’t even from here,” she said.
Ayers reports for the Register & Bee. Reach him at (434) 791-7981.