A five-bedroom house about a mile west of the King Street Metro station triggered sharp criticism and cries of discrimination at yesterday's Alexandria City Council meeting.
The $128,000 home at 2954 Viewpoint Rd. is the proposed site of the first city-run group home for mentally ill adults.
While mental health professionals say Alexandria desperately needs a long-term facility for the chronic mentally ill, Viewpoint Road residents vehemently oppose the site.
The City Council deferred voting on a special permit until June 25.
Area residents argued yesterday that the home -- which would house eight adults -- would decrease property values, pose danger to their children and disturb the tranquility of the neighborhood.
"Anybody that says having a mental institution on the street doesn't affect property values is crazy themselves," said D.A. Maupin, one of the scores of residents fuming about the prospect that the City Council would grant the special-use permit needed by the Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services Board to operate the home.
John E. DiFazio, another Viewpoint Road resident, sent a letter to the council saying he is considering suing the city if the group home is approved.
"I am aware that group homes for every illness and undesirable trait are the trend in care these days, but so were lobotomies a few years ago," the letter said.
Such comments infuriated William W. Snavely, the Northern Virginia president of the Alliance of Mentally Ill.
"What we've heard today is highly discriminatory," said Snavely, who told those in the crowded council chambers that his 28-year-old son is mentally ill.
"They're saying they don't want the home largely on the grounds of their ignorance of mental health," Snavely said.
Sixty-seven residents of the area signed a petition pleading with the council to "minimize the fear" of "daily contact with mentally deranged people."
But William Claiborn, the executive director of the city's mental health board, said he hoped the home would be approved. Claiborn, a psychologist, said that the group home would be operated with federal and state funds and is greatly needed in a city that deals with a current caseload of more than 300 chronically ill patients.
In another matter, the council allowed public comments on the current search for a new city manager. About a dozen leaders from community groups ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to the Parent-Teachers Association told the council what they expected in the city's new top administrator.
James C. Lyons, the representative of the Chicago firm recruiting the new manager, said after hearing the community input that he would be searching for a person "concerned with revitalizing neighborhoods and preserving the city's heritage."
Former housing director Vola T. Lawson has been acting city manager since Douglas Harman left the city Feb. 26 to become the city manager of Fort Worth, Tex.