The Pine Bluff Planning Commission approved a request Tuesday by Freedom for Life Ministries Inc. to operate two transitional housing facilities despite some commissioners’ concerns about adequate space and a potential fire hazard near one structure.
Five of the eight commissioners supported each of the two measures that will see homes at 1103 W. 24th Ave. and 1908 S. Linden St. become conduits for women leaving the state prison system and preparing themselves to re-enter life as free citizens.
The approval was made conditional upon Freedom for Life providing paved off street parking for residents, the installation of a fire sprinkler system in each home, and the prohibition of any offenders convicted of violent crimes or sexual offenses.
Up to six women and one resident assistant will be housed at the 24th Avenue location and up to eight women and one resident assistant will be at the Linden Street address, both of which will be leased from the mutual owner.
Freedom for Life is licensed by the Arkansas Department of Community Corrections to operate drug-free transitional housing facilities and will provide the women with 12 step addiction programs and a range of counseling services from spiritual to employment to life skills.
“These homes allow its residents to overcome their addictions and help them to find work,” Freedom for Life representative Randy Martin said. “The residents are required to pay rent which averages between $400 and $600 per month.”
Debate on whether to approve the requests centered over the question of whether the 24th Avenue location was adequate.
“I appreciate what you are trying to do but the facility on 24th is grossly inadequate for its intended use,” said Commissioner Edward Long. “Having six people living in a house with only one bathroom is inadequate.”
Martin said that the ADCC requires that no more than eight residents share one bathroom thus putting the six to one ratio at the 24th Avenue residence within state guidelines.
Commissioner Stephen Huselton opposed the 24th Avenue location due to its proximity to an abandoned home.
“There is a large two story red brick house that was abandoned and boarded up probably 20 years ago that is right next to the residence we are considering today,” Huselton said. “We presently have a fire bug on the loose and can’t seem to catch them. I really worry that if that abandoned house catches fire it would be a danger to the residents next door. The house is a fire trap and needs to be leveled to make that neighborhood safer.”
Planning Director Jerre George added that the fire marshal has requirements for transitional housing units.
“Any residence operated as a business that has more than five people must be equipped with a sprinkler system,” George said.
Commissioner Gordon Reese said that the question of whether the residence was a perfect fit or not was beside the point.
“We can’t find a perfect location for this,” Reese said. “We have a concerned citizen who has given them an opportunity here in Pine Bluff with these two houses and it doesn’t behoove us to stop these people from trying to do something good.”
In other business, the commission unanimously approved a request by the pastor of True Light Church of God In Christ, Jerry Smith, to build a church on the southwest corner of Grant Street and West Seventh Avenue.
Smith said that he anticipates construction on the planned 3,200 square foot building by March 2013.
Earl Mays spoke against the request.
“We bought property on the west side of the property being discussed and we are planning to build a community center there,” Mays said. “We already have two churches in that area. The street is narrow and if you do permit him to build, then the city needs to widen the street.”
George said that the planning department recommended approving the request because the surrounding streets are main thoroughfares and that while traffic may be heavy on Sundays the volume of traffic during the rest of the week is fairly light.
The commission unanimously approved a preliminary plat of the Crossroads Subdivision at the request of the Crossroads Development Limited Partnership that will be located at Ohio Street and 38th Avenue, pending the receipt of documentation of plan approval by a range of agencies including Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility and the Pine Bluff Street Department.
McClelland Consulting Engineers project manager Adam Triche said that the subdivision will have 65 units and two green spaces.
“We will need to be finished with the whole subdivision by the end of next year so anything that we can do to get a head start will help,” Triche said.