Legal Issues Raised in Columbia Halfway House Move

9:58 PM, Jul 29, 2013   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- A legal fight is underway over a halfway house for federal parolees in downtown Columbia.

The City is among those appealing a decision by the City's Zoning Board of Appeals. A group of neighbors and business owners are also hoping they can stop the halfway house.

The Board of Zoning Appeals was asked to render a decision after a representative of Bannum, Inc., a Florida company seeking to purchase land from Kirkwood Properties of Columbia, filed consideration of a "special exception' May 13.

The Board of Zoning Appeals overturned a previous decision on June 27. 

In the City Center neighborhood where the halfway house would be moving, the concern seemed to be uniform: safety of its residents.

"To place a federal halfway house on this block would just increase the number and severity of the issues we're already facing," said Mark Chappell, a Columbia attorney representing a group concerned neighbors and business owners.

Eric Bland, also named as a representative in the appeal dated July 25. By granting an approval, the group believes the City's Board of Zoning Appeals glossed over crucial details of City ordinances, most pertaining to zoning.

"Under normal zoning use, the federal halfway house would bot qualify at the Burn's Auto Part store," said Bland, referring to the unused property only blocks away which previously house an auto parts store.

"It's an existing commercial structure. They have to change the use to a residential use," Bland said.

In a move late last week, Columbia City Manager Teresa Wilson also filed an appeal against the City's Board of Zoning Appeals. It was filed in the Fifth Judicial Circuit by W. Chaplin Spencer of Spencer & Spencer Professional Association, and is dated July 26.

Ms. Wilson's office declined to comment citing pending litigation, but reached over the phone for comment, her attorney, Chaplin Spencer, said the City believed the Board of Zoning Appeals overlooked certain aspects of City zoning pertinent to any decision.

Spencer said this has the potential to become a "huge issue."

Bannum Incorporated, a Florida company is seeking to take control of about 46 federal parolees currently housed on Bull Street.

A number of business owners are named in the appeal as well.

"We need an opportunity for success," said Paul Cormier who runs Capital City Printing next door with his wife Pauline. They have been at the location since 2007, and have worked businesses in Columbia's City Center neighborhood collectively for 27 years.

"Why should we have to be able to burden that responsibility?" 

Mr. Cornier questioned whether he, and other area residents and business owners, should have to allow a halfway house because those that would be housed at the proposed home would be seeking rehabilitation.

The property owners named in the appeal, along with Bannum, Inc., have said they believe the halfway house would undoubtedly draw an increased police presence, suppressing any qualms about a rise in crime.

They have also said the location is prime because of its close vicinity to a federal court house and a U.S. Marshal's office. 

A representative for Bannum, Inc. and Kirkwood Properties declined to comment, stating that his clients have asked him to refrain from speaking with members of the media.

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