The Alexandria Planning Commission voted last night to recommend approval of a proposed permanent home for the mentally ill -- the first such in the city -- despite vehement opposition from some citizens who would be the home's future neighbors.
The commission's 5-to-1 recommendation to the City Council means that the $153,500 two-story brick home at 1521 Dogwood Dr. in the city's northwest corner is one step from becoming a supervised home for five mentally ill patients.
City health officials maintain there is a dire need to house the dozens of Alexandrians released from state mental institutions in the 1960s and 1970s as part of the nationwide deinstitutionalization policy.
One such patient, Joel Rabinowitz, had to be moved 14 times in one year in part because there was nothing but temporary housing available in the city.
The City Council is expected to vote on the issue Jan. 18.
"We do not object to the concept, but believe the site is inappropriate," said Rosalind Bovey, president of the North Ridge Citizens' Association, a group representing 2,860 homeowners in the area where the home is to be placed.
"The association understands that each neighborhood must do its share in shouldering this community responsibility," Bovey said. But she said the particular site is unacceptable because it is in a densely populated area. She said residents would favor placing the home in a commercial or industrial area.
Several other residents who attended the commission's public hearing on the home last night said they feared falling property values and unpredictable neighbors if the plan is approved.
One sat through the four-hour meeting to tell the commissioners that he would welcome the group home. "It's new. It's unusual," said paramedic Philip R. Himes. "Any time people have to deal with schizophrenics or strange people they are fearful," he said.
Himes, who said he worked at one time with mentally ill people in Niagara Falls, N.Y., added that residents have no reason to worry. "Historically, the evidence is that schizophrenics are the victims, not the perpetrators. It is they who are robbed and beaten and assaulted more than other people."
Mayor James P. Moran Jr. said earlier yesterday that the city had previously supported 16 group homes for alcoholics, juveniles and the mentally retarded and that council members understand the need for a home for the mentally ill.
"The people we're talking about come from all walks of life, all neighborhoods, all income levels. They are Alexandrians," Moran said.
The Alexandria Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Department would operate the home under 24-hour supervision.