A request to re-zone the properties where two houses are standing in order to let Hope Haven run two group homes in Rock Rapids — was denied Monday night by the Rock Rapids City Council. But, if what we learned at the meeting is true, Hope Haven may not have actually NEEDED to ask for the re-zoning in the first place.
The public hearing was to decide if two properties — 504 South Bradley Street and 1008 South Marshall Streets should be re-zoned from R1-Residential to R2-Residential Multiple. About forty people were in attendance.
Randy Waagmeester with Waagmeester Law Office spoke as the attorney representing several landowners with property surrounding the lots in question. He said that they wanted the council to adhere to zoning regulations and not establish a poor precedent. They were concerned that other properties could be spot-zoned like this and several unrelated adults could live together in the same house. He said that as far as he knew, the properties didn’t fall into the category of residential care facilities. Waagmeester also said the people he represented were concerned about the market value of their homes if the property were re-zoned and the group home became a reality. Waagmeester also mentioned that there are several R2 districts in Rock Rapids already.
The Rock Rapids City Attorney — Mike Austin reported that the planning and zoning commission was against the re-zoning on principal of spot-zoning. They thought that rezoning only the property of the homes to R2, in an area completely surrounded by R1 would set a bad precedent. Austin was also quick to point out that a “no” vote on the rezoning would not mean Hope Haven could not have group homes in Rock Rapids.
Then Rock Rapids resident Heather Springer, who is also an attorney, spoke up. She said that from what she could tell, Hope Haven wouldn’t have needed to even apply for a zoning change, as the city ordinance specifies that in an R1 district — which is how the properties are currently zoned — no more than four unrelated adults who share meals together in a “family setting” may live in the same house. The current plan for the group homes is for four people living in each house. Springer also mentioned that the city council probably does not want to run afoul with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and warned them not to discriminate against persons with disabilities.
While the possibility that Hope Haven did not need a zoning change was valuable information, it did muddy the waters a little as since no one had done research on that issue, no one was willing to stick their neck out and verify what Springer had said. City Attorney Austin did go so far as to say he thinks she is right.
But Austin also reminded the group that the new information was immaterial to the issue on the table — whether to approve or deny the rezoning request.
Calvin Helmus, representing Hope Haven said that the clients that they hope to move into the group homes have lived in Rock Rapids for years, and it it their town. He asked the council and everyone present to give them a chance.
A few citizens spoke up who basically stated that when they purchased their homes, this is not what they bargained for. One woman claimed that she had talked to people who lived near other group homes and claimed that they had said they never used to lock their doors, but now they feel like they have to. People also emphasized a perceived predicted drop in property values if there is a group home in the neighborhood.
In the end, the Rock Rapids City Council did deny the zoning applications. Some members noted that they did this because it was spot-zoning, not to shut out Hope Haven clients. But if what we learned at the meeting is true, it may not matter. Hope Haven may be able to use the houses for group homes without a zoning change.
Photos: Top picture is 1008 S Marshall. Bottom is 504 S Bradley