Council asks state to seek zoning approval for halfway house

A resolution requesting the state appear before the city Planning Commission for approval before opening a parolee halfway house at the Southeast Arkansas Community Corrections Center was unanimously approved Monday by the Pine Bluff City Council.

The resolution goes on to give the city attorney permission to take the matter to court if the state refuses.

“I certainly hope that we can do something to prevent this from happening,” Alderman Glen Brown said. “I think we have enough parolees that are dumped into our area anyway, and regular civilians are having problems trying to find jobs.”

Alderman Bill Brumett said his concern is that the state should come through the same channels that are required of any other entity that would like to open a halfway house in the city limits.

“I feel like they’re kind of thumbing their nose at us in a way, that they’re going to do it anyway,” Brumett said.

The Arkansas Department of Community Correction plans to open transitional housing in Pine Bluff for 32 state prison parolees in four duplex housing units on department property at 7301 W. 13th Ave. DCC officials said at a recent meeting the facility may house sex offenders and violent offenders, but no final decision has been made on who will stay at the facility or how long.

The parolees would be expected to leave the facility to work jobs. DCC officials have said the facility could open in April or May.

City Attorney Joe Childers said the area is zoned residential, with the prison facilities grandfathered in as a non-conforming use. Any changes to the way the buildings are used would be required to come before the Planning Commission. In addition, all proposed halfway houses are required to come before the Planning Commission, zoning official Lakishia Hill said.

However, Childers said the law on whether municipal zoning laws apply to state entities is open to interpretation. The Attorney General’s opinion on the subject is essentially that it is to be decided on a case-by-case basis, Childers said. In Pine Bluff, there is no precedence of the state going through the Planning Commission that Childers was aware of.

Ora and Earl Mays have been circulating petitions opposing the plan. Ora Mays said Monday that they have 700 signatures and the support of many businesses and all the school districts***.

DCC officials have argued the halfway house is a humane and good solution for providing a place to go for prisoners who qualify for parole, but do not have family members to take them in.


***There has been a clarification to this article. Click here to see it.