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The owner of the former Pine Tree Inn, which now functions as a group home for those with substance abuse problems and also houses sex offenders, received a conditional-use permit from the town of Harmony’s Planning and Zoning Committee on Thursday.

TOWN OF HARMONY

A group home for recovering alcohol and drug abusers, some of whom are sex offenders, was given permission Thursday to continue operating on the outskirts of Janesville.

The town of Harmony Planning and Zoning Committee voted unanimously after a long public hearing to approve a conditional-use permit for the Jessie Crawford Recovery Center in the former Pine Tree Inn, 4544 E. Highway 14.

The group home had been operating without the proper zoning, apparently for a few years.

Representatives of the Madison-based agency stressed repeatedly that theirs is a sober-living recovery facility and that some of the residents happen to be listed on the state sex-offender registry.

Attendance at the town hall meeting was limited to 10, so The Gazette monitored the meeting through a conferencing app that provided low-quality sound, with comments often unintelligible and the identities of those speaking not always clear.

A map of dozens of sex offenders’ residences within 3 miles of the town hall was shown, with the suggestion that these offenders’ whereabouts aren’t generally known, while those at the Jessie Crawford center are known and must wear monitoring bracelets.

“They could ultimately be next door, and they’re everywhere,” said someone who could not be identified. “I’m sorry, but that’s just the hard truth.”

James Crawford, who runs the nonprofit agency, said his clients suffer from addiction and that if they were not in the facility, they would be out in the community, a lot of them homeless.

Crawford said residents receive group treatment and counseling.

Nearby property owners complained over the past three years about the appearance of the old motel and asked that conditions be imposed.

The appearance has improved, some speakers said.

Dave Hiller of Amwood Homes, which is across Highway 14 from the facility, said he and others want assurances that the center complies and continues to improve.

“And I’ve got a farm that isn’t always going to be a farm. Sooner or later, the city will develop in that area,” Hiller said, adding that the facility must not harm the neighborhood.

Hiller also mentioned an incident a few years ago in which his employees saw people having sex on the hood of a car while others watched.

Someone speaking on behalf of the center said that was likely three years ago when the center was established, and things have improved since then.

“Some things happened early on that wouldn’t happen now because we have things in place,” Crawford said.

Crawford said it’s likely a resident will abuse drugs or alcohol at some point as he struggles for sobriety, but those who can’t stop, with help, will be expelled.

The conditional-use permit was approved with conditions that require the facility to:

  • Pass an annual building inspection.
  • Have fewer than 15 emergency calls, such as disorderly behavior, in a 90-day period.
  • Maintain all required state licenses.
  • Complete removal of motel signs and install signs identifying the center within 60 days.
  • Maintain video cameras (already in place) with storage of 30 days.
  • Be reviewed by the committee each year.

A woman who lives in the area spoke, saying a man recently approached her son asking for help to find his cat, and she called law enforcement. She said she does not feel comfortable living near sex offenders.

James Dean, who lives on site and manages the facility, responded, saying he has 10 cameras and plans to add more, and residents are “monitored heavily.”

Residents must sign in and out and follow rules, with some of them also subject to rules imposed through their probation.

Dean said the facility does house “a few” sex offenders, and he understands the concern.

Those offenders wear ankle bracelets, making it easy for police to track them, Dean said.

Town attorney Michael Oellerich said if the center fails to comply with the conditions, the committee could revoke the permit.

Dean said he and his female partner live on site, adding: “I certainly would not put her in harm’s way if I felt any discomfort at all.”

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