The O’Fallon City Council will soon consider a permit requested by Emmaus Homes, for a group home to be located in the Twin Chimneys subdivision.
Emmaus Homes is a non-profit organization, which provides 24-hour support services for adults with developmental disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, down syndrome and autism.
The house, located at 28 Rock Church Dr., would be home to three adults with developmental disabilities.
During Thursday’s public comment hearing, Dave Kramer, chief operating officer of Emmaus Homes, discussed the group home and mission of the organization.
He said the women hoping to move into the home are in their 50s and have lived together for seven years as a family.
“Just like any one of us looking for a home, they look for a safe and clean neighborhood,” he said. “They look for an attractive, affordable house. They look for community resources. They also look to be near their families.”
Kramer added that where these individual’s skills end, the services of Emmaus Homes take over.
O’Fallon Patch previously reported, group homes have been a controversial issue in St. Charles County. Local governments cannot ban them, but several have placed restrictions on how close they are to each other.
According to current O'Fallon city code, group homes are limited to one per square mile. Lake Saint Louis requires a conditional use permit and homes can be no closer than a thousand feet from each other. St. Peters, Wentzville and Cottleville have 2,500-foot requirements.
On Thursday, City Attorney Kevin O’Keefe read case law along with state and federal statutes from which the city must comply as they consider the group home permit.
He said according to state statutes, a single-family dwelling is defined as, "Any single family residence or single family dwelling in which eight or fewer unrelated mentally or physically handicapped persons reside, and may include two additional persons acting as house parents or guardians who need not be related to each other or to any of the mentally or physically handicapped persons residing in the home."
O’Keefe also referenced the Fair Housing Act, which was passed by Congress in 1968 to prevent housing discrimination and amended in 1988 to include people with disabilities.
“The law now, makes it unlawful, to discriminate in the sale or rental or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap of a person residing in or intending to reside in that dwelling,” he said.
O’Keefe referenced several cases in which courts declared distance requirements between group homes as unlawful.
O’Keefe added that the proposed group home, which is 9/10s of a mile away from another group home that was established in Twin Chimneys in 1993, complies with the current city code distance requirements.
He added, it became clear earlier this summer with another permit request, that there are some significant problems with the city ordinance regarding group home regulations.
O'Keefe said the city could not ignore city ordinance but also could also not ask an applicants to wait under Fair Housing Act.
O’Keefe said O’Fallon staff has compiled information to help the city’s decision making and to educate the public about situation.
O’Fallon city staff is drafting revisions to city codes, to comply with these federal regulations and case law.
The O’Fallon Planning and Zoning Commission held a public comment hearing regarding the permit requested by Emmaus Homes and did not approve a recommendation at Oct. 4 meeting.
At Thursday’s public hearing, more than a dozen O’Fallon residents came forward to voice concerns or express support for the proposed group home in Twin Chimneys.
The home at 28 Rock Church Dr. is owned by CTM DC, LLC and is leased to Emmaus Homes.
Several residents said they were unhappy, because they believe the owners were misleading when they purchased the home.
Kramer said he guarantees his staff and the owner Dan Schwartz, who aids Emmaus Homes in their search for property, did not represent themselves in a false manner.
O’Fallon Patch was unable to reach owner Dan Schwartz on Friday afternoon for comment.
Several O’Fallon residents said they worried about the value of their property diminishing and the safety of their children, should the home become residence to a different group in the future.
Twin Chimneys resident Julie Drake said it is not clear what kind of model is being set up with proposed group home.
Drake said when she heard the property may be a group home, she wasn’t scared about the three disabled, elderly women planning on moving in.
But she was concerned about who could move in if Emmaus Home decides to move out in the future.
“There’s no way you can guarantee individuals with more violent and disruptive behaviors won’t move in,” she said.
But some residents came out to express their support and welcome the group home.
Twin Chimneys resident Amy Robertson, a mother of a child with a disability, said her neighbors who oppose the group home are not bad people, but she disagrees with their views and fears regarding the group home.
“We cannot make decisions on life and law based on fear alone,” she said.
She addressed the fears of other residents, including the concern about disruptive group homes moving into the house in the future.
“There are 813 homes in our subdivision, statistically speaking, it’s impossible that we don’t already have these social problems in our subdivision,” she said, “At the planning and zoning meeting it was discussed that those kind of homes are an entirely different zoning anyway, and that we are really not at risk at having that kind of situation brought into our neighborhood.”
The conditional use permit for the group home in Twin Chimneys will go before the O'Fallon City Council for a final reading and vote at the Thursday, Oct. 25 meeting.