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TELL CITY – Perry County commissioners listened at a regular meeting Wednesday to people opposed to the siting of a recovery home for substance abusers at 5150 Girl Scout Road. The opponents' message was clear: Yes, Perry County needs such a facility, but no, don't put it in our neighborhood.
Randy Paris, president of Recovery Connection Inc., pleaded that organization's case in a letter published in two parts last month due to its length. Those who missed it can find it in The News' online archives by typing "recovery" into the search box at www.perrycountynews.com and clicking on the headlines, "Community needs recovery home" and "Recovery home will help community's battle against substance abuse."
The county's plan commission opted to send a rezoning request for the site to the county commissioners without a recommendation either for or against the change. County attorney Chris Goffinet explained at Wednesday's meeting the county commissioners have 90 days from the plan commission's Aug. 4 decision to reach their own. The issue was placed on the county commissioners' agenda for Wednesday by Recovery Connection, but Paris later asked that it be removed, County Administrator Teresa Kanneberg said Tuesday. It was to remain on the agenda, however, and both advocates and opponents were to attend Wednesday's meeting.
Kanneberg and Darlene Fischer, assistant for the county's planning commission, said Friday morning they hadn't received a petition for the rezoning that included a specific legal description.
Asked about the request to remove the issue from the agenda, "I said no," Commissioner Gary Dauby told the more than 70 people gathered in the commissioners room and spilling into the courthouse lobby.
He asked Recovery Connection representatives Paris and Sharilyn Franzman to explain what they propose to do. Franzman replied that the group had just changed lawyers and had been advised not to offer public comment until the new one could look into the issue.
Dauby asked the meeting attendees who wanted to address the commissioners to sign in and limit their comments to three or four minutes apiece.
The opponents' plea focused largely on the children they fear could be hurt by a resident of the home.
"Girl Scout camp is more than just a camp; it is also rehab for many girls," said Amy Knight, who identified herself as a Girl Scout leader. "There are girls ... that have to deal with parents that are alcoholic, that are on methamphetamine, and they get to escape either for the summer or a fall jamboree or for a day camp ... and they get to find themselves."
Her daughter is too young to notice that the proposed building is a rehabilitation facility, Knight said, "but in five years, she would. And how many of these girls are going to see that and not be able to escape that life, no matter where they turn?" It's nice to have the camp in Perry County, because most other Girl Scout activities require travel to other locations, she added.
"Everything is a drive for these parents," Knight said. "And (the) Girl Scout camp is so close, because it's right here. Last year we had a membership of eight girls in Cannelton, and now it's up to 20 because I keep talking about how great it is that we have this camp. And now I wonder how many of these parents are going to pull their kids out of camp."
Bud Burst said he's lived in the area for 35 years and has always enjoyed freedom, trust and security he said is difficult to find elsewhere.
"Anybody can walk out the back door of that (recovery) house and be shielded by woods," he said, "and go to any property in this area."
Commissioner Jody Fortwendel noted that Perry County has "very few" areas zoned for business, listing sites near the interstate, Bandon, Gatchel and the airport.
John Werner, attorney for the plan commission, noted that officials of Tell City, Cannelton and perhaps Troy have "exercised their right to extend their jurisdiction two miles beyond their city limits."
People who will benefit from the recovery facility will need counseling and transportation to and from various meetings, Fortwendel said, which would be "very inconvenient" either from areas already zoned for business or the proposed Recovery Connection site.
Attorney John Hargis told the commissioners he's representing the Girl Scouts Raintree Council and others, who submitted a statement of objection to Kanneberg. They are strongly in favor of the rehabilitation of drug users, "but that's not what zoning is about," he said.
The group wants a business zone "to be stuck in the middle of a conservation (-zoned) area," he said. "This, to me is a classic case of spot zoning," which he called "not per se illegal in Indiana, but highly frowned upon; there's almost a presumption of it being improper unless you've got a real good reason for doing it."
The Scouting organization's opposition is based on potential safety issues, Hargis said, citing statistics that show "only between 16 and 20 percent of people who are addicted to methamphetamine, for example, are successful in their rehabilitation. The other side of that coin is that 75 percent or more are not successful ... so they go back and use methamphetamine."
He displayed maps showing how close the site of the proposed facility is to the Scout camp. Some drivers avoid the Indiana 66 entrance to the camp because it's steep, he said, so they use another from Girl Scout Road.
The latter entry is less than 200 yards from the property proposed for rezoning, he said, showing the commissioners a map and photograph of the area.
"I was a prosecutor for 24 years, I've been a criminal-defense attorney, I've looked at meth addiction pretty closely from people that I've either prosecuted or represented, and (the addiction) needs to be subject to rehabilitation, but it's true that because of the recidivism rate and the behavior of people addicted to meth, it should not be located this close to Camp Koch."
"Some 2,500 girls, from kindergarten to high-school age use Camp Koch. Cell phones don't work there ... there's a risk involved, having a facility like that that close."
He suggested that the plan commission's failure to send a recommendation "is the opposite of an endorsement of this rezoning." He also said the proposed use of the site doesn't fit the low-intensity-business use described by the B1 zoning the organization requested or special uses available under the existing conservation zoning.
Jody Rusk identified herself as director of membership services for the Girl Scout council, and said since the 1940s, "we've been offering a safe environment for our girls." Counselors and support staff, including 32 part-time staffers, spend money in nearby stores, she explained.
The council has documented more than $260,000 in spending "directly in Perry County" this year, including money paid to merchants, contractors and companies providing services to the camp. If it continues to be viewed as a safe, healthy place for young girls, Rusk said the camp can be expanded and adults supporting the girls' activities will continue patronizing local businesses.
Jan Davies is a property owner in the county and chief executive officer of the Scout council who also asked that the facility not be sited near the camp.
"Our volunteers, the parents of our children and our employees will perceive the residents of that center to be ... potentially harmful to them," she said.
"It's a big deal when you come to Camp Koch," she said. "The site is very remote. There are big trees like these kids have never seen. They've never slept in a tent, they've never experienced a thunderstorm outside. They hear the activity on the river, the plants across the river, and they're scared. If we add one more element of fear, it's our fear as a corporation we will lose the people who are coming to learn and participate in Girl Scout activities."
If Camp Koch cannot be used, those activities would be shifted to a site in another county, Davies said. "The reason that is significant to all of you is that it (would be) an economic loss to the county."
She, too, talked about the perception people would have of a rehabilitation facility's residents, and concluded, "we really want to stay here, and we want to be welcomed here, but we need to have a very safe environment for everyone. So we ask again, please do not let this facility be located next to our site."
The Rev. Dea Goad, pastor of Gospel Tabernacle Church, said she was asked to speak on behalf of more than 100 people who signed a petition against the rezoning. If it were to be approved, she said, other businesses detrimental to area property values could move in. She also questioned the supervision recovery-home residents would have and noted law-enforcement responses are hampered by distance to the area. The existence of a rehabilitation facility could also elicit fear in people whose children attend church camp and the congregation's older members, she added.
Floyd Freeman provided the commissioners a letter he'd submitted to the plan commission, detailing several incidents of trespassing, burglary, arson and fatal "drug-related tragedies" over the 47 years he and his wife have called Perry County home. In addition to questions raised previously, the letter urged county officials to consider success rates of facilities in rural versus urban areas, where jobs, health care and transportation are readily available.
"I don't think people should have to live in fear or wonder if something's going to happen," Denny Paris said. He had heard that prospective recovery clients would be screened, "but we all know people fall through the cracks," he said.
Zeke Ransom said he's seen a lot of mothers with their daughters along the road, waiting for the camp to open.
A few drug dealers and manufacturers have appeared in the area, but "thanks to our police department and our court system, we sent them away." Children using the area include the Scouts, those attending Camp With a Cop sessions and his own grandchildren, who ride four-wheelers and bicycles.
"I think if this happens, you'll see a little Dodge City," he said, "... you're going to see something very, very serious," including robberies, injuries and even deaths. "We don't need this, we just flat don't need it. ... We've got a lot of good neighbors and ... we don't need a flophouse for convicts."
Dr. Thomas Bailey said he appreciates the area's pastoral setting, which includes "houses, a church and a little bit of farm activity." If planning to open a business, "I would go someplace where it's zoned for business already," he said. " I wouldn't assume that I could buy any house of my choosing, put a bunch of money into it, then go to the commissioners and get an OK, and hopefully no one would find out about it like these folks did. It was really late in the process, frankly."
A meth-manufacturing operation sprang up for a time at the property next to his, Bailey said, "I did carry a gun during the time they were there," he said. It's been cleaned up and "I don't have to carry a gun any more, and I'm pretty happy about that."
He has worked with rehabilitation in his practice and knows it's very important, he continued, but doesn't want it to be associated with the home he returns to each evening.
After determining representatives of Recovery Connection and the Girl Scout council could be available, the commissioners opted to send the issue to their regular meeting Oct. 21. It will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the county courthouse.