Council denies permit for facility

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Members of the Kenbridge Town Council denied a special use permit to the owner of a residential home at 124 Cralle St. following a public hearing where neighbors cited safety concerns and allegations that residents were leaving the facility.

Seven people spoke during the public hearing, including the owner of the Jan’s Residential Home facility on Cralle Street, who sought the permit.

The facility houses the elderly and older residents with mental illness.

There were about 20 people in the audience during the meeting.

A special use permit was requested by property owner Judy Bennett for the firm to operate as a business in a residential area. While the property’s zoning would not change, Town Manager Robyn Fowler said a marker indicating a special use permit for the property would be in place if the council approved the permit.

The facility has been in operation prior to the application being considered.

Many of the speakers lived on or nearby Cralle Street and cited multiple alleged instances of the facility’s residents walking through the street late at night or early in the morning asking for cigarettes and other items.

Hafiz Ibrahim, the owner of a nearby gas station and convenience store, said a resident had knocked at his door at 6:30 a.m. asking for food. Ibrahim, detailing another

instance, said a resident allegedly knocked on his door requesting cigarettes and money.

Marilyn Thrower, who lives on Cralle Avenue, said she was afraid to take her dog outside at night due to the residents from the facility.

“That’s really scary to me,” Thrower said. “I can’t run, I can’t get away from anybody.”

She said her neighbor is 90 years old, and she has seen residents come into her neighbor’s yard.

“I fear for her,” Thrower said of her neighbor’s proximity to the residential home. “I fear for myself too, but I feel like I can take care of myself better than she can.”

Charles Thomas cited fears for the residents of the facility. He cited the potential of being struck by a vehicle while walking late at night and expressed concern for his 90-year-old mother, who lives close to the facility.

A. Rocquelle Thomas said she lives next to the facility. She said her husband has come home in the evenings to see several residents in their yard.

“The increase in the walking traffic, the trash in the area and just having them come across our property, it’s disturbing, and we would definitely like to have something done about it as soon as possible,” she told the town council.

Bennett, the owner of the Jan’s Residential Home location in Kenbridge, also spoke and said she and the staff could not control how the residents choose to spend their time.

“Some of what they are saying is true,” Bennett said about the instances offered during the public hearing. “Walking late at night is not true, because the nurse (would) be there early in the morning. The nurse comes in at 6 o’clock. The bus picks them up at 7.”

“Can I control that?” Bennett said, referring to the residents’ request of their neighbors. “No. The resident has their right.” She said most residents currently in the facility don’t walk the streets at night.

A portion of the public hearing grew tense as speakers worked to counter Bennett’s statement. Mayor Emory Hodges intervened and encouraged the audience to avoid arguing.

Bennett said some residents who had exhibited unusual behaviors were no longer at the facility.

“All of this I am just hearing,” Bennett said regarding the allegations.

Hodges asked the owner whether the facility was monitored or is regulated by state or federal organizations.

Bennett said the facility has underwent inspections by the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS).

Bennett said the residential home did not have a violation during its most recent inspect except that there was a lack of a purified protein derivative (PPD) skin testing for staff, which tests for Tuberculosis.

After the public hearing closed, the council made the permit request to the first order of business during the meeting.

Hodges said council had received multiple calls about conditions at the facility, including a complaint of daytime drinking at a nearby transmission shop and residents stealing hymnals from nearby churches. A petition from Kenbridge residents with roughly 15 signatures asking the council to intervene was also presented to the town, Hodges said. He noted that the public hearing was one of the highest attended since he had started attending the meetings.

Hodges said the Kenbridge facility had received multiple violations from the DSS in recent years.

“It was quite alarming to me the number of violations,” Hodges said. “There were numerous and recurring violations (and) repeat violations on the website. That’s public information. Anybody can look that up.”

According to the DSS, nine inspections took place between June 25, 2014 and July 28, 2017 at the facility. DSS cites the facility as having received more 60 violations during that time span.

Sixty-five individual citations include violations of maintaining the interior and exterior of the facility, inadequate number of staff at the facility at certain times, unclear work schedules and unavailable documentation for the facility and employees.

The most recent inspection noted numerous violations, including the facility failing to provide an itemized monthly statement for each staff member, failure to ensure that each staff member received at least eight hours of training each month and that three out of three lights in the female restroom were inoperable.

Three of the inspections were complaint-related, according to DSS.

Hodges said that the business has changed hands since it was first established in Kenbridge. According to Hodges, the last time the business changed hands a special use permit was not applied for. He noted the business has operated some time without a permit. Hodges said the responsibility to apply for a permit falls on the business owner.

“That’s not my responsibility, as a mayor, that’s not the council’s responsibility, that’s the business owner’s responsibility,” Hodges said. “That’s true anywhere you go in the state. If you go somewhere in the state, then you’ve got to get a business license. That’s up to you as the business owner — that’s not up to me as a mayor.”

Addressing the council, Hodges asked the council to consider the complaints and DSS documents.

“I’d like to remind the council that you guys do a really good job for this town, and that sometimes we’re faced with situations where we have to make decisions that are not pleasant,” Hodges said. “I’m not opposed to any type of business. I think that this particular business is, for numerous reasons, not being properly managed. It has a very lengthy list of violations with the board of Social Services … I think we have a serious issue on our hands.”