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Williamsburg administrator objects to proposed group home

WILLIAMSBURG — The city's top administrator is objecting to a proposal that would place a group home for the mentally ill in a residential neighborhood near Walshingham Academy.

City Manager Marvin Collins wrote in a Aug. 25 letter to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services that his primary concern about the proposal is its location within a single-family home near the school.

The group home planned for 101 Woodmere Drive is less than 500 feet from Walshingham Academy and would house mentally ill patients who are clients of Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, according to Collins' letter to the state.

The Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board operates in Hampton and Newport News and provides mental health and substance abuse services to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, according to the organization's website.

The group home could potentially house individuals who have committed violent offenses or sexual offenses but were found not guilty by reason of insanity because such individuals aren't necessarily restricted by laws that prohibit some sex offenders from living near schools, the letter states.

In an Aug. 31 response, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services stated Gateway Homes of Greater Richmond, the nonprofit that would operate the group home, has admission criteria that states it won't accept individuals who were found not guilty of sexual offenses by reason of insanity, are registered sex offenders or are unrestorably incompetent to stand trial for sexual offenses that would require registration as sex offenders. Failure of Gateway Homes to follow its policies is considered a violation of licensing regulations.

Gateway Homes didn't return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday morning.

The license application is under review, and an on-site inspection is probable within the next week, the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services' letter states. If satisfactory, Gateway Homes will be issued a conditional license valid for six months.

A two-story home valued at $479,500 now sits on the property. The house is zoned RS-1, which allows for single-family dwellings as well as buildings such as churches and schools with special permits. Whether a new building will be constructed wasn't specified in either letter. The house is owned by Horace L. Hunter Jr. and Paula C. Howard, according to the city's assessor's office.

The group home is considered by state and federal law to be a single-family home, meaning it will likely meet zoning requirements for residential neighborhoods, according to the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Collins' letter also raises issue with the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board, charging that "due diligence" wasn't exercised to find a group home location in the organization's service area, which doesn't include Williamsburg, according to the letter.

The response from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services did not address this concern. The Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board didn't reply to a phone message left on Tuesday morning.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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