Some Ridgecrest residents secured a minor victory as a project they oppose won’t be allowed to evolve from rooming house to group home, technical terms that could ultimately end up being semantics. About 30 people sat through the nearly five-hour Board of Adjustment meeting July 12, waiting to speak against the project and hear the outcome. And while the newly requested amendment was ultimately denied, the project still has an existing conditional use permit it can move forward with.
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In December, the Board of Adjustment issued a conditional use permit to New Day Holdings LLC to build a rooming house at 15 Dixon Drive, the site of the old Madison Inn and Restaurant. Then in June, Ridgecrest residents showed up en masse to a Board of Commissioners meeting to express frustration with the project. At that meeting, Jeff Wallace said, “We’ve seen the destruction of our neighborhood. It’s a mud pit. The contractor has disrupted sewer, water.”
And Amy Nasta lamented a lack of transparency and said, “No one has introduced themselves. We are concerned and left guessing with what’s happening.”
Following that June meeting, Xpress reached out to County Planner Debbie Truempy who confirmed, via email: “The developer of the old Madison Inn has strayed from what was approved in the conditional use permit. Building Permits and Zoning have made site visits. The county is working with the developer to get back into compliance or apply for a revised conditional use permit.”
The proposed project, called United Life Academy, is described as a “ministry, discipleship program” by Nick Dimitris, who spoke on behalf of New Day and is identified as an administrator of the program. He said the agency would charge students $1,000 per month for the 12-month program.
The original conditional use permit would allow for 10 rooms to be rehabilitated, and Dimitris said New Day planned on putting four people in each room. He said discoveries made during the renovation process led them to apply for a conditional use permit that would allow for two dormitory-style wings that could accommodate up to 40 people. The new layout would constitute a group home rather than the existing permit for a rooming house. It was a technicality that seemed to confuse many people in attendance as well as members of the Board of Adjustment.
Board member Mychal Bacote sought clarification between the two terms. Truempy explained: “A rooming home is a 10-room hotel. With a group home, it is intended for groups with therapy or mentoring. The mentoring is what fits. Because it would be a dormitory rather than room, it’s not a rooming house.”
“It doesn’t fit perfectly with either definition. … It’s more suited for rooming house,” noted Truempy.
The lot is zoned R2, and both rooming houses and group homes are allowed with a conditional use permit, according to the county’s planning and zoning ordinance.
Bacote then said he supported the original permit because he thought it would be lodging only and “other associated activity would not be occurring on this site.”
Truempy echoed that, saying she was originally told, “They would use it for religious assembly. There was not a set number of students offered in the first application. Everyone presumed it would be like a regular hotel setting. I know I did.”
During the public hearing, some residents noted New Day had acquired upward of six other properties in the area. Dimitris acknowledged the group had and it would be for “people to come and go and engage in religious discipleship activities.”
Dimitris noted the residents would be beneficial to the area: “When you have a restaurant or motel, there is no vested, consistent on-site attachment. This is not that. Here, there is personal motivation because of the program, and there is motivation for the facility to be maintained because they live in it.”
However, Nasta said she still had the same concerns expressed in June. “I have asked several times for a meeting with the contractor to explain what’s going on. We don’t know what’s going on. We have to figure it out and piece it together.”
About 10 others spoke against the project citing ambiguity, traffic, safety and infrastructure concerns.
Wallace keyed in on the safety aspect and accused the ministry of targeting a demographic he wasn’t comfortable with. “We looked at application. They ask, ‘Do you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, mental illness, homosexuality, finances…?’ They are targeting vulnerable people.”
Xpress looked at the company’s website, but a current application is not available to verify those questions exist.
“I understand there is a lot misunderstandings and misinformation. I want to convey that I think it is very understandable for the concern in the community to understand what is going on,” Dimitris acknowledged.
“We have attempted, on a bunch of occasions, [to speak] with most clear objectors. There wasn’t an interest to have that conversation. We want to answer the questions. We want you to ask any questions. There is nothing to be hidden. Our whole desire is that this will not be a detriment, but a blessing to the community.”
Board member Keith Levi said it was a difficult decision: “I think one of the most important things was there was a hotel there before, and it was proposed to recondition that space. I feel this current iteration of the plan is significantly different than previously submitted.”
Board member James Wilson noted, “It’s out of character with the rest of the surrounding area. I don’t see how I could support it.”
And Chairman George Lycan closed out the comments stating, “It impacts the health and safety and is detrimental to the neighborhood.”
The board then unanimously denied the conditional use permit. However, New Day is still able to act on its original conditional use permit allowing it to rehab the 10 rooms. Earlier in the meeting, Dimitris said, “We are OK with any status.”