Planners grapple with living center details

The Valley Banner

ELKTON – The town’s Planning Commission continued its work on how to add transitional living centers to the Elkton’s ordinance last week.

The commission is attempting to create some guidelines for the homes, which local resident Pham Chopra has said he plans to open in town in the future for drug and alcohol addicts and victims of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Currently, the town’s ordinance doesn’t mention transitional living centers.

“We have to allow one district where it’s permissible, otherwise it’s permissible everywhere theoretically,” commissioner Cole McGregor said at the commission’s March 1 meeting.

As it stands, the commission seems to be leaning toward allowing such the group homes in R-5 or R-6 residentially-zoned areas. Such a facility could also be allowed in R-8, a zoning classification for planned unit developments (PUDs). The first option could require a rezoning and a special use permit. The second option would require an agreement on a PUD between the applicant and the town. (The 189-acre former Kite property purchased by Chopra from the town last year is zoned R-8).

Last week, the commission talked about regulating how many parking spaces such a facility would need and how many persons could live in a bedroom.

Planning Commission Chairman Dan Talbot suggested the town allow no more than two people per bedroom.

Talbot said he would ask Town Attorney Nathan Miller if the town could restrict how far a transitional living center could be from a school. At a Feb. 29 public hearing about such facilities, Elkton resident Jan Hensley suggested a 1,000-foot buffer.

Hensley also suggested that the town require a certified professional to reside in such a home, but Talbot said state code doesn’t require that for homes with eight people or less.

The Planning Commission is proposing that transitional living centers would need to have a state license, among other things.

On Tuesday, Town Attorney Nathan Miller said he wasn’t sure if the town could require a transitional living center to be licensed. It’s possible that the state might license such facilities for drug and alcohol addicts, but not for victims of PTSD, or vice-versa. Miller said he doesn’t believe that such a facility with less than nine people would have to be licensed. (Chopra has emphasized that residents of the transitional living centers would not receive treatment.)

Maria Reppas, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, said via email that the agency “does not license a service with the title ‘Transitional Living Centers’....We license substance abuse residential programs/detox facilities.” In addition, “The number of people in a facility does not play a role in whether they should or should not be licensed. We also license group homes (8 beds or less).”

However, Rockingham County’s zoning ordinance, chapter 17, defines a group home as “more than eight individuals residing together as a family unit in a residential facility...with one or more resident counselors or other staff persons.”

The state of Virginia, code 15.2-2291, defines a family, in part, as “eight or fewer individuals residing together as a family unit in a residential facility...with a resident counselor or other staff persons.”
Miller said he plans to meet with Talbot in the next two weeks.

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