PARKERSBURG — In its first meeting since a federal judge issued an injunction barring members from saying the Lord’s Prayer just before the gavel in session, Parkersburg City Council will consider a pair of ordinances limiting the location of facilities drug treatment centers and group recovery homes.
The council meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in its room on the second floor of the municipal building. A meeting of the Urban Renewal Authority will follow.
Last year, the Council approved a moratorium on the establishment of any new residential addiction treatment centers – from large rehabilitation centers to sober group homes – until June 30, 2022. One of the reasons, have officials said, was to give the West Virginia legislature a chance. enact state-level laws to address the proliferation of such facilities, which are generally exempt from local and state zoning regulations because addiction is classified as a disability.
Parkersburg Mayor Tom Joyce said Friday that nothing has passed the Legislature on the matter, so the administration has proposed two ordinances to provide “some reasonable accommodations for licensed treatment facilities and residential group homes” while protecting neighborhoods and adjoining owners.
The first would prohibit residential drug treatment facilities from being within 250 feet of a residential neighborhood, within 500 feet of a public or parochial school, and within 1,000 feet of an existing treatment facility.
The one that governs group homes applies to those that serve people with developmental or behavioral disabilities. It says homes cannot be located within 1,500 feet of another group home; limits occupancy to 12 residents or one per 200 square feet, whichever is lower; and prohibits external or structural alterations that would alter the residential character of the building, such as the expansion of the garage and driveway. City off-street parking regulations must be followed, no tenant may pose a substantial risk to health, safety or property damage and all administrative activities must only serve the residents of this home.
Joyce said the goal is to prevent group homes from “take possession of a neighborhood” while providing safe conditions for group home residents.
Facilities interested in being an asset to a neighborhood instead of a liability “should have no problem with the standards we have put in place with this order”, he said. “(They are) not much different from what we would expect from any owner.”
Group homes must also comply with all state licensing requirements and the National Association of Recovery Residences standards and code of ethics. Some existing facilities haven’t, Joyce said. It was not immediately clear whether the ordinances, if passed, would apply to existing facilities or only new ones.
The Lord’s Prayer was said before the official start of council meetings for several years after the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the practice of council members leading it at the start of the session. But U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. ruled this week that the practice of the prayer was prohibited because it was a typically Christian prayer offered by elected officials and there was an implicit and sometimes express invitation to members of the public to join them.
Council Chairman Zach Stanley said he was in communication with other council members to determine what they would do going forward, both in terms of future meetings and any potential calls from the decision.
“I want to get an idea of what each board member thinks,” he said.
Whatever decision is made, Stanley said the board will follow the law, which includes the judge’s decision.
“The council makes laws, and we expect others to follow them,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”
Joyce said the judge’s order was very clear, but he was disappointed with it.
“Christianity has been under attack in the United States for a long time, and I think this is just another example of people using the law to fit their narrative,” he said.
Joyce said he supported religious freedom, but described the lawsuit as “very politically motivated from what I would call leftist” people.
“I think a lot of that was reward for the failure of the non-discrimination order,” he said, referring to 2017 city legislation that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on a variety of factors, including veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation and gender identity.
The lawsuit was filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation on behalf of local residents Daryl Cobranchi and Eric Engle, who both identify as atheists and said they felt negatively singled out for not participating in the prayer.
Engle said many factors prompted the lawsuit, including a 2017 ruling by the 4th United States Court of Appeals that a similar practice by a North Carolina county commission was unconstitutional and that no was not taken up by the Supreme Court of the United States.
“We had standing, and we had both suffered discriminatory acts,” said Engel.
“It’s not about political party affiliation or ideology in any way,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the non-discrimination order.
He called Joyce’s characterization of the trial “completely unfair but not unexpected.”
Evan Bevins can be reached at [email protected]
Also on Tuesday’s agenda
* The final reading of an ordinance enacting wage increases of 50 cents an hour for civilian employees who have worked for the city for 10, 15 and 20 years, matching similar incentives passed last year for the police and firefighters.
* The final reading of an ordinance granting the citywide 3.2% wage increase for police officers and firefighters, whose compensation is to be set by ordinance.
* Mayor Tom Joyce’s appointments of Kate Marlow to the Municipal Planning Commission and Will Starcher to the Avery Street Architectural Review Commission.
* A resolution allocating $10,000 to the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation for a feasibility study for work at the Sumner School facility.
* A resolution renaming the area where the Veterans Memorials are located at City Park to Veterans Memorial Plaza.
* Following the meeting, council will meet as the Urban Renewal Authority to consider three applications to donate property and one application to sell property at fair market value, as well as hear a presentation on the marketing of owned properties at URA.