ALBANY — Alice Fitzgerald — alone and with husband Jim — has been walking the couple’s neighborhood the last couple of days, motivated by the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission’s 4-3 vote Tuesday to approve a rezoning request that would allow 9 acres of property currently owned by Raleigh White Baptist Church at 2804 Phillips Drive in northwest Albany to be converted into a faith-based drug/alcohol rehab center.

The Fitzgeralds say they have already gotten residents at 265 of the 285 homes in the adjacent Winterwood neighborhood to sign a petition opposing the rezoning. But they’re not stopping there.

“We’re going to all the homes we’ve missed before this issue goes before the City Commission,” Alice Fitzgerald said Thursday before setting out with Jim to seek additional signatures. “This is nothing against the church or the rehab facility, but the overwhelming majority of people in this neighborhood do not want this type of facility located near their homes.”

Penfield Addiction Ministries of Union Point, Ga., a for-profit organization that has similar facilities in Union Point, Lavonia and Alapaha, has reached an agreement in principle to receive the donation of all 9 acres of Raleigh White property in exchange for allowing the small church with a shrinking membership to continue to hold services in the church building on the property. Officials with Penfield told citizens at a community meeting held prior to Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting that the church services would be part of the rehab ministry’s program as well.

“The people in our neighborhood, which is a very safe and clean neighborhood, are not opposed at all to the mission of this ministry,” Jim Fitzgerald said. “But we are opposed to this type of facility being placed in a large neighborhood — and not just our neighborhood, but any neighborhood. This is not the kind of thing that enhances property values or the security of a family neighborhood.”

Ward IV Albany City Commissioner-elect Chad Warbington attended the neighborhood meeting during which Penfield supporters and officials outlined their plan for the property if the rezoning request is approved by the City Commission. Efforts by The Albany Herald to contact Warbington Thursday were unsuccessful.

Ward III City Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said she and other commissioners will no doubt look into the issue before it is brought up at that board’s Jan. 28 meeting.

“We usually talk with the commissioner in whose ward an issue like this comes up, but I can say that in situations like this I usually side with the people who live in the community, if they take the time to contact (commissioners),” Fletcher said. “I’ve made initial contact with some of the people in the community, and they’re certainly not being unreasonable. I think they want — and I know it’s what I would want — what’s best for their community.

“We’ve seen the good work that groups like Aspire, The Anchorage and GraceWay do, so there very well could be a need in the community (for the Penfield facility). But the question becomes if it’s the right fit for that property and that neighborhood.”

The Fitzgeralds listed safety concerns among the reasons most in the Winterwood neighborhood oppose the facility.

“From what I understand, Penfield does plan to have security on-site, but that doesn’t extend beyond the property, which has no fencing and no other security measures,” Alice Fitzgerald said. “And these people (who are undergoing rehab) will be going in and out of there 24/7. There are a lot of elderly and retired people in this neighborhood, and there is a school nearby (Robert Cross Middle). There are a lot of concerns about this issue.”

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