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Residents oppose developmental care facility

May 22, 2019

A group home for adults with developmental disabilities is coming to Putnam County, but some residents are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Starlight Behavioral Health is planning to move into a building on 203 Lower Overlook Drive, within Knollview Estates. The building would be used to house adults with developmental disabilities. William Dempsey, a Hurricane resident, collected 68 signatures in protest of the facility.

Several neighbors spoke about their concerns regarding the facility at the last two Putnam County Commission meetings. Commissioners decided last Tuesday morning to take action. The signatures and testimony of residents will be sent to state senators and representatives.

Some of their concerns were that the facility would cause property values to decrease, and that it wasn’t in line with certain zoning laws.

County Attorney Larry Frye said the facility was within state code, but the commissioners still decided to file an injunction. It will likely be filed against Starlight’s parent company, ncg-CARE, Frye said.

The new facility is a result of Senate Bill 575, which called for six facilities of this kind to be implemented across the state. The Healthcare Authority designated Putnam as one of the areas that needed one, said Amy Ingles, the West Virginia director of development for Starlight.

Putnam hasn’t had a facility like this one since the 1980s, Ingles said. The opposition to the facility came as a surprise to her.

“That’s kind of unfortunate. That’s really discrimination,” Ingles said. “I really believe in my heart when we put this in, it will be a nonissue.”

She said several of these concerns stem from misinformation about what Starlight is.

“These are not forensic patients. These are not drug abusers,” Ingles said. “This is their home and it’s going to look like any other.”

Residents were hoping zoning laws would be able to keep the group home from being built. The area is zoned for single family use. Therefore, any type of business would need a special permit, which would require public meetings and input per city ordinances.

However, after the planning department officials sent out the public notice, they realized state code said such group homes were permitted. As a result, the public meeting was canceled.

Some residents mistook the canceled meeting as an act of deception by Starlight.

“They were going to stick this thing in the middle of the night, and get out. We did not get due process,” said Kipp Beaver, who is a neighbor of the soon-to-be facility.

However, Ingles said it wasn’t the company’s decision to cancel the meeting. The county’s planning and infrastructure canceled the meeting because it was a matter of following state code.

She also added those living in the facility have the right to privacy and their living situation shouldn’t be advertised.

Law also requires behavioral health facilities to be more than five miles a part. A Prestera facility is located less than two miles away. Dempsey, along with others in attendance, argued that this law was being violated.

But Prestera and Starlight have different classifications. Starlight is an intermediate care facility for individuals with intellectual disabilities. It will be only one in Putnam County.

The commissioners agreed the language in state code needed further clarification.

“There are different ways to interpret certain language in there,” County Commissioner Ron Foster said.

Commissioner Andy Skidmore said it’s a decision that should be made at a local level.

“The local people know the community,” Skidmore said. “It doesn’t sound like there is a clean piece of legislature and there are some things we need to define.”

However, Frye said he thinks the law seems clear.

“I don’t think anything can be done to keep the facility out with the exception of potentially talking to legislators that have adopted these rules and laws,” Frye said during public comment. “I know that probably wasn’t the answer you wanted to hear.”

Reach Rebecca Carballo at rebecca.carballo@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5189 or follow @Becca_Carballo on Twitter.

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