EATON TWP. — A township Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on whether to grant a variance to the Road to Hope Foundation House quickly turned into fighting among board members and outbursts from residents who filled the meeting room.
The board voted to deny the variance but not before lengthy and often-heated testimony.
Board member Elizabeth Rattray accused residents of being discriminatory to both her family and the recovering drug and alcohol addicts that Road to Hope Foundation House hopes to serve.
“I have to tell you that I have lived my entire life fighting being discriminated against. It is arduous. It is painful. And you can’t see on your face whether or not you’re a recovering addict, but you can see on me. I can’t take it off,” she said.
“That being said, I can guarantee you that there are people in this room that, given the opportunity, would not want to live next door to me.”
Rattray’s statement came after remarks from residents who opposed the Road to Hope Foundation House’s proposal to build a housing facility for about 20 recovering drug and alcohol addicts. Those residents have said the location for the facility is too close to Midview High School, and recovering addicts could bring crime to the community.
The Road to Hope Foundation House’s proposal to operate the facility at 12981 Grafton Road was initially rejected by the township’s zoning inspector, George Anders, who said the proposal did not align with the township’s zoning laws, because the property that the organization wanted to purchase was in a residential area. Churches are permitted in the area under the township’s zoning laws but not a transitional housing facility, he said.
The Road to Hope Foundation House appealed to the Board of Zoning Appeals, asking for a variance after the proposal was rejected.
But the issue Tuesday was not whether the facility would be detrimental to the community, Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Ernie Walker said. He said the board was looking at whether the property owner could prove hardship, and Road to Hope Foundation House doesn’t own the property.
In order to prove hardship — a requirement of granting a variance — the property owner would have to prove that he or she could not make use of the property, said Gerald Innes, the township’s attorney.
Innes said an example of hardship would be if a property owner could not sell his or her property as residentially zoned if the city had placed a polluting factory next to it. In that case, the Board of Zoning Appeals could change the zoning of the property.
The property at 12981 Grafton Road is owned by the Southern Baptist Church. The Road to Hope Foundation House is in the middle of a purchase agreement.
Jeff Kamms, executive director of Road to Hope Foundation House, said he is not happy with the decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals — all of whom denied the request, except Rattray, who abstained — and the organization is seeking the help of an attorney. During the meeting, Kamms accused the board of discriminating against the facility, which he said should be permitted under residential zoning code.
“If a locality attempts to keep out such a treatment program through discriminatory zoning ordinances and practices, these actions may be more than just unreasonable, they may be unlawful,” he said, quoting federal anti-discrimination laws regarding diabilities.
Walker disagreed with Kamms’ arguments, saying that they didn’t apply in this circumstance.
“You’re buying this property knowing that you can’t use it,” he said.