The Alexandria Board of Zoning Appeals voted yesterday to permit establishment of the city's first halfway house for persons with a history of acute psychological or emotional illness despite strong opposition from residents of the area where the facility will be situated.
THe board's vote was 4 to 1, with only the board's chairman, Alexander A. Bairo, voting against the halfway house.
THe board acted on an appeal by citizens in the West End area of Alexandria of a decision by Zoning Administrator Charles B. Moore permitting the halfway house in a neighborhood for single family homes or hospitals.
Opponents of the facility, a two-story red and white frame house on a hill at the end of a winding road in 2 1/2 wooded area, contend that the seven persons and two house counselors who would live there cannot be considered a family because they have no family or moral commitments to each other.
"Calling it a single family had been done, in our opinion, only to satisfy the requirements of the zoning coe," Christopher Beatly, who represents the Concerned Neighborhood Citizens Association formed to oppose the halfway house, told the board yesterday.
Beatly and other opponents argued that those in the house would not be there by choice and would be under the control of an outside corporation, a reference to the New Hope Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed to raise funds for the facility.
Opponents also urged that the Halfway House, to be operated by the Alexandria Community Mental Health Center, should be zoned as a hospital. That would require issuance of a special use permit from the City Council.
Jim Lewis, a member of the New Hope Foundation's board of directors, called that argument absurd, saying no treatment and counseling will be done on the premises. Lewis said no one would be forced to live at the facility or to stay there if they did not want to, a point disputed by the opponents.
Residents of the West End area, some of whom live a few blocks from 5325 Polk Avenue, where the halfway house will be situated, almost filled the City Council chamber to voice opposition to the project. Many voiced feared that the people in the halfway house would be dangerous to the community.
"You are setting a precedent that will destroy this community if you allow this halfway house," Peggy McGraw told the board.
A spokesman for the Concerned Neighborhood Citizens Association said they may appeal the board's decision to the Alexandria courts.