The Prince George's County Council went on record yesterday in near-unanimous opposition to a group home for the mentally handicapped that is planned for a working-class neighborhood near Landover Hills.
The council voted 5 to 1 to send County Executive Parris Glendening a letter, asking him to stop the project. But chief administrative officer John Wesley White said that it is too late for the county to pull out of the plan to convert the single-family home at 4860 66th Ave. in Defense Heights. The private group buying the home says only three residents will live there, and thus the new use does not require a zoning change.
Area residents have complained to their elected representatives about the plan since finding out from the neighbor who was selling the property that the county government was helping the purchase with $75,000 in Community Development Block Grant money.
"I said, oh my God, wait a minute -- the county?" Elizabeth Smith said. Smith and her husband have lived next door to the house for 28 years and she has led the fight against its conversion.
Smith, 52, and her neighbors told Councilman James Herl and others at a recent community meeting that they were concerned that the new residents of the home might disrupt the neighborhood if they have alcohol- and drug-related problems.
Smith said she and her neighbors "are frightened of people who have no supervision over there . . . . What if they fall back and they need to support their habits? They can rob us or anything else."
Charlene Brisco, executive director of the private, nonprofit Center for Community Development that will run the home, said residents of the home will not come from mental institutions but are "mentally recovering adults" who were living in home settings elsewhere in the county.
Brisco said she is investigating the possiblity of hiring a live-in staff person for the home to allay the neighbors' fears.
"There is not a community that welcomes the mentally disabled . . . because it raises fears for them," Brisco said.
"The community didn't know what was going on," Herl said yesterday. "They feel this is being pushed down their throats."
Jo Ann T. Bell, the only council member who voted against sending the letter to Glendening, said after the vote that the whole issue has been misunderstood by its opponents.
"It's a knee-jerk reaction to misinformation in the community," she said.