TOWN OF HARMONY
The Harmony Town Board on Monday tabled a proposed ordinance that would restrict where sex offenders could live in the town, but discussion of the measure still dominated the meeting.
The board decided to table the proposal until March because a state Department of Corrections representative couldn’t attend the meeting.
The sex offender ordinance was proposed after board members learned that multiple sex offenders were living in the former Pine Tree Inn, 4544 W. Highway 14, which is now operated by the Jessie Crawford Recovery Center.
The town’s proposed ordinance would prohibit sex offenders from living within 1,500 feet of areas children frequent. Offenders who did not live in the town before they committed crimes would not be allowed to live there after their release.
An amendment allows the town to grant exceptions on a case-by-case basis in instances in which the offender has been rehabilitated.
The center’s website says the former motel is a recovery center for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.
Town Chairman Jeff Klenz said Monday that the property is zoned for light commercial, and the motel use is grandfathered in because the motel existed before the zoning was enacted.
Under the grandfather clause, if the property is used for something other than a motel for at least 12 months, it must adhere to current zoning, which forbids motels in that area. The building hasn’t been used as a motel for the last two years.
Klenz said housing sex offenders violates that clause, but the town is willing to work with the center.
Board member Matt McNall said he and Klenz recently met with Department of Corrections officials, and he feels better about the situation.
“A lot of our initial fears were just that. They were initial fears,” he said.
A new conditional-use permit allowing the building to house sex offenders could be required, and town attorney Michael Oellerich is working with the property owner and the center’s CEO, James Crawford.
Crawford said Monday that his organization doesn’t focus solely on sex offenders but sometimes helps them. Of the 10 residents currently living at the center, six are offenders, and five wear ankle bracelets. None of them are violent.
“Our purpose and our mission is to work with people with substance abuse and mental health disorders. Yes, we do get referrals for sex offenders, but that’s not the population we target,” he said.
Residents stay at the facility while they learn how to live in society again. They have a 10 p.m. curfew, and must sign out to leave the building, which has a manager living on site, Crawford said.
The center requires treatment and positive behavior, and drug and alcohol tests are administered twice a week, Crawford said.
Resident Dick Stockwell, who owns the office building next to the facility, said he has struggled to keep businesses in there.
Klenz said he also worried about declining property values of adjacent properties, but he and Oellerich said they think the town can reach a resolution with the recovery center.