200114_HARMONY

The former Pine Tree Inn is now being used to house sex offenders, according to members of the Harmony Town Board. They say the operation is violating the conditions of the property’s conditional-use permit.

TOWN OF HARMONY

The first draft of an ordinance policing the placement of sex offenders within town of Harmony boundaries was presented at a meeting of the town’s board Monday.

The board will have a public hearing on the ordinance at its meeting Feb. 3.

The issue arose last month after town leaders learned multiple sex offenders were living in the former Pine Tree Inn at 4544 W. Highway 14, Janesville.

The facility is run by the Jessie Crawford Recovery Center. The organization’s website says the building serves as a recovery center for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Under the proposed ordinance, offenders would be prohibited from both regular and full-time residency within 1,500 feet of schools, public parks, licensed day cares, libraries, playgrounds, pools, churches and other areas frequented by children, consistent with state law.

If an offender had established residence prior to the passing of the ordinance, a disqualifying site was built after the offender’s residency was established or the offender is a child living with an adult, the ordinance would not apply, the draft reads.

Out-of-county violators would be policed closely under the ordinance.

The ordinance would deny an offender residency within town boundaries unless he or she was a resident of Rock County at the time of his or her most recent conviction. Nonresident offenders could only be placed in the town if he or she is living with a family member who is a Rock County resident.

Violations of the ordinance would result in fines between $200 and $500 and prosecution fees for each violation.

While changes to the ordinance are likely, Town Attorney Michael Oellerich told the town board having an ordinance gives them somewhere to begin.

“It’s the first, best step that we can take,” he said.

The board said the Pine Tree Inn housed four sex offenders as of a few weeks ago and does not meet state statutes because there is a church that wasn’t specified during the meeting within 1,500 feet of the former motel. The properties are approximately 1,278 feet apart, town clerk Tim Tollefson said.

Board President Jeff Klenz also said the motel’s current use violates the property’s original conditional-use permit. The board is working with the residents and facility director on resolving the issues.

Klenz said he has received numerous complaints from residents, including a grandfather whose 17-year-old granddaughter took her own life one month after being gang-raped by four sex offenders in Dane County in 2016.

Klenz hopes the ordinance will prevent similar incidents in the town and allow the town to protect children.

“This is the type of stuff that I’m very concerned about,” he said. “We have these sexual offenders and it appears to me that the state hasn’t given us much of an opportunity to place these people. We all know that they have to have a place to live … but that’s why we’re going after this type of thing,” he said.

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