Albemarle residents voice concerns over GHA facility on Hemlock Drive

Published 2:23 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

After Albemarle residents spoke out during Monday’s council meeting about what they consider to be a care facility operating in violation of the city’s zoning ordinance, the nonprofit behind the facility has responded.

Their complaint was about a GHA Autism Supports facility on Hemlock Drive not having a state license to operate as an official adult care home, thus not falling under the city’s definition of being an official family care group home.

The facility falls under the definition of being a family dwelling, per the city’s zoning ordinance, which is defined as: “Any number of persons related by blood or through guardianship, marriage or other legal method, and up to three additional unrelated individuals, living together as a single housekeeping unit and participating in various communal activities such as cooking and eating.”

The city has previously received complaints about the facility operating as a group home. City planning staff looked into potential violations, with Planning Director Kevin Robinson visiting the facility. He found three people living there, which is within the family dwelling unit ordinance.

Speaking before Council, Hemlock resident Donald Long alleged the facility was guilty of “rogue actions” by being improperly listed as a family dwelling when it was really a group home. He also alleged more than four people were living there, which would be in violation of the family dwelling unit ordinance.

A family care group home is defined “a group or assisted care facility with support and supervisory personnel that provides room and board, personal care and habitation services in a family environment throughout the day and for an indefinite and generally long period of time for not more than six resident handicapped persons.”

“I think that that’s a group home,” Long said.

Billy Mills, who resides on Brenda Drive, in the same neighborhood, said the GHA facility is “breaking the law.” He noted several group homes in the city were closer in proximity than allowed by the separation requirements in the zoning ordinance.

City attorney Britt Burch said if the state recognizes the facility as a group home, then the city would also. To avoid being in violation of the separation requirement in the city ordinance, GHA could request a zoning variance, or text amendment which, if granted, would allow it to lawfully remain on the property.

GHA said it is “complying with the city’s ordinances and is not in violation of any laws or rules,” per an emailed statement to the SNAP.

The nonprofit said three individuals who reside at a separate licensed group home are staying temporarily at the Hemlock house while maintenance and repairs are being made to their home. The work is scheduled to be completed this month and the individuals will then return to the group home, GHA said.

North Carolina does not “require a house being used by individuals receiving residential services for such an urgent temporary purpose to be licensed,” the statement said.

“As any good neighbor and local community organization should be, GHA Autism Supports is a good citizen and will continue to comply with the rules; and there is no effort now to circumvent any ordinances,” GHA said. “If GHA Autism Supports should determine in the future to consider using the house on Hemlock Drive as a licensed group home for individuals receiving services, it will follow the rules then, too.”

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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