Cohabitation ordinance makes trouble for drug recovery program
An ordinance designed to keep student housing from taking over the village of Forest Hills is creating an obstacle for a drug recovery program looking to start up there. Mia Boyce, director of the Christian nonprofit Kingdom Care, began her efforts to set up a home there for women in recovery in October. She had been working with her daughter-in-law’s parents, who own the 11-bedroom home, to move her Asheville-based ministry to Forest Hills, so she sought the village council’s blessing.
“The home is perfect for our needs,” she said.
Besides the 11 bedrooms, it has four full baths, three half baths, two full kitchens, a kitchenette, two dining rooms, three living rooms and a chapel, it’s got a hilltop view and is at the end of a road that is outside of the village proper. But it’s still inside its extra-territorial jurisdiction, so village ordinances still apply.
Boyce’s first round of conversations with village officials resulted in an application for a zoning variance. After a February hearing, the request was denied on the grounds that the home wouldn’t comply with a 2010 ordinance passed to keep students from nearby Western Carolina University from rooming together in the village. The ordinance states that no more than two unrelated people can live in a home together.
So, Boyce is trying to get the home approved by applying for a conditional use permit, an avenue that Gerald Green, Jackson County planning director, said is more applicable to the situation than a zoning variance is.
“Variances are to vary the development standards,” he said, “whereas a CUP is to allow a use that may require additional research to assure it’s compatible with the uses in the community.”
For instance, a zoning variance could be used to allow a 35-foot building in a zone that allows a maximum height of 30 feet, but a CUP would be necessary to allow a building housing 20 unrelated people in an area that allows only two.
The two applications also go through different processes. While the zoning variance application went through the zoning administrator and then to the board of adjustments for approval, the village council will ultimately decide the CUP application’s outcome, though the village will be consulting Jackson County throughout the process.
Boyce applied for the CUP in mid-March, but the village is waiting to receive her $500 application fee and a laundry list of additional information to make the decision.
“We need more information on what the facility’s going to include,” said Mayor Kolleen Begley. “We don’t know whether or not she is required to have a license, if this falls under family care homes or group homes. We just need more information.”
Information requested includes maximum occupancy, services provided and copies of licenses or permits required — or verification that none are needed.
According to Boyce, that’s unnecessary, because Kingdom Care will really be nothing more than a safe home for people recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
“It’s just a home,” she said. “That’s all it’s going to be.”
Kingdom Care would house a maximum of 15 women and six children, and while it would be a semi-structured environment with required daily Bible study, weekly church attendance and participation in Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-based recovery program, it would mainly just be a place for women to stay while they get their lives back on steady footing.
“This would be a stepping-stone, a time to have a safe, secure home while they can find employment or go back to school,” Boyce said.
After receiving the fee and information, the village will schedule a public hearing. Then the town council will be able to vote on whether to approve or deny the CUP.
“Additional research helps assure everyone that the use will fit in with the community,” Green said.