Thursday, August 21, 2008
Planning nixes Safehaven for men
By SUE WATSON
The Marshall County Planning Commission said no Thursday to a group who wants to put a transitional home for former inmates near a subdivision. A large group of residents living in the area voiced opposition to the move at the meeting.
Realtor Mike Reaves and three men who wanted to buy 33 acres of land at the end of Chickasaw Lane to set up a home to help former inmates turn their lives around spoke first. They talked about the benefits of a farm setting and Christian ministry designed to help former county inmates in four counties rebuild their lives through gardening, tending cattle and counseling. Safehaven of North Mississippi has no homes established yet.
Reaves, in introducing the concept to a large crowd opposing the measure, said the former inmates would voluntarily “sign away a year of freedom to become good citizens.”
Former inmates would be admitted by invitation only, he said.
Safehaven already has some jail ministries and knows prospective inmates prior to extending an invitation after they serve their time.
Safehaven proponents said they would operate on strict guidelines.
Larry Logan, with the ministry, said they would expect to house no more than 20 men.
Opposers said they are not opposed to the ministry but do not want Safehaven in their backyard.
“Why does everything nasty want to come to Marshall County?” asked Carol Evans. “I’ve got children and I’m not for it.”
“For one, we do not consider ourselves nasty and awful,” said one of the Safehaven group.
Margaret Shoffner said those in opposition were not present to question the morals or the facility, but the location is not the proper place to establish it.
Peggy Teter asked, “Have y’all considered what a facility like this will do to our property values?”
Reaves said the area at the end of Chickasaw Lane had been neglected. There are four burned-out mobile homes near the proposed project.
“This will enhance the property values because they intend to clear it off and have gardens and cattle,” he said.
Reaves said the Safehaven group did not have to come before the commission but volunteered to come before zoning - that he had asked zoning to send out letters prior to filing a request for a permit.
He said the gentlemen proposing the project “are business people in the Baptist community.”
Safehaven would serve men out of local jails and who are not on probation or parole, and who fully volunteer to stay at the home another 12 months.
“Why don’t you take them in your home?” asked one unidentified opponent.
“I can’t take all 20 of them,” said a man with Safehaven.
Monet Autry also opposed the move saying land in her family goes back to the post-Civil war era.
She is opposed even though no one has lived on the property since her mother.
“Our family - the Bell family - opposes it,” she said. “Even though it is a Christian environment, we are opposed to having that in our community.”
Lowell Bumpus asked why the developer wants to locate the facility in a residential area.
Bill Kinkade, planning commissioner, said that although Christian beliefs are always to help, there are political realities to face.
“Reorienting people back into society is a good thing, in my opinion,” he said.
“I understand it is a good thing; they just picked the wrong area,” said commissioner “Flick” Ash. Forthwith, he motioned to deny the permit and the motion passed unanimously.
Commission chairman Joe Hurdle explained to the group that either party has the right to get on the agenda at the board of supervisors and take the matter before the board, including Safehaven’s right to appeal the commission’s decision.
Kinkade praised the group for bringing the request before the commission before making an application for a permit.
“Where in the county can you find a non-residential area?” asked Hurdle in reply to Ash’s comment about picking the wrong area. “That’s ludicrous.”
Shoffner added a postscript.
“This is not a proper place to put it,” she said. “We don't want to go to work and worry about our property at home and our mothers. Everybody knows, historically, what happens.”
Present representing the Safehaven group was Keith Gustafson, Richard Crowson, and Larry Logan, who would operate the ministry.
Safehaven of Northwest Mississippi has reserved a spot on the county supervisors’ agenda for Monday, Sept. 8, where the group may appeal to the board to reverse zoning’s vote to deny them a permit.
Other actions taken by the commission Thursday included the following approvals:
The commission advised a couple who want to place an auto salvage yard on 10 acres of land located on Old Highway 7 South next to the race track that they need to draw up plans and apply for a special exception.as Safehaven representative Keith Gustafson talks during last week’s meeting.
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