ALBANY, Ga. — It's not that Chris McMillan, Robert Miller and dozens of residents in their West Albany neighborhood just off Dawson Road between the Shackleford House and Crown Hill Cemetery are any less "Christian" than other citizens of Southwest Georgia.
They are, however, concerned about such things as an unsavory element being drawn to a neighborhood that is teeming with children and elderly citizens or the property values of houses they've lived in for decades.
McMillan and Miller were among more than 30 citizens from the Green Acres and Woodland subdivisions who asked the Albany City Commission Tuesday not to allow the development of a women's recovery halfway house at 1813 Valley Road.
"We've talked to officials — to (City Commissioners) Chris Pike and Roger Marietta and to (City Manager) James Taylor — and they've told us they're doing what they can, but it seems that their hands are tied," McMillan said before the meeting. "From what they've told us, the way city ordinances are drawn right now, anybody can start this kind of facility anywhere in the city as long as they don't have more than six residents in their home.
"But we're concerned about how it will impact our neighborhood. You can expect the ex-boyfriends of these residents or drug dealers and prostitutes to come around when they find out there is a recovery center in the neighborhood. And we've had a real estate agent tell us that our property values — which are already low because of the economy — will go down significantly if this facility is located in our neighborhood."
Efforts to reach Michele Frazier, who invited residents in the neighborhood to attend a forum Aug. 18 to explain plans for the 1st Step 2 Recovery Inc. residence, were unsuccessful.
In a prebriefing before the commission's night meeting, Commissioner Bob Langstaff and City Attorney Nathan Davis told the citizens they would review case law to see just what they can do in the matter.
"What we can do locally is limited by federal law," Langstaff, an attorney, told the audience. "We're looking to see if we can be more restrictive, but this kind of thing is going to happen more often as the state tries to move people out of state-run facilities."
Marietta said before the meeting that he and Pike had been working with Davis to determine whether city law concerning the location of such residences should be amended.
"As it now stands, anybody could start one of these residences in any neighborhood in the city without approval of the Planning Commission or the City Commission," Marietta said. "The city attorney is looking into the possibility of revising the ordinance, particularly if any kind of group home involves (residents involved in) some type of criminal activity.
"We're researching whether there should be higher standards in such cases."
Miller said he's not disturbed by the criticism of some who condemn efforts to stop the location of the recovery residence in his neighborhood as "unChristian."
"People can say we're heartless because of this, but that's not true," he said. "We're all on board for getting people who need it into rehab; all of us know people or have family members who've needed that kind of help. But this is just bad business. Our property values are going to suffer if they bring this to our neighborhood."