Sulphur residents voice anger over community homes

By By Natalie Stewart / American Press

SULPHUR — Several residents are livid over three community homes entering their neighborhoods and asked the city to force

the company to cease construction. But city officials say they can’t do anything because their “hands are tied.”

Evergreen Life Services is bringing

three community homes to three different neighborhoods in the city. Each

will house six

people with “intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Councilman Randy Favre and Mayor Chris Duncan said the city can’t

legally stop them because of ordinances and laws put in place in

2003, before members of the current administration took office.

The houses have already been purchased at 1909 Olene Drive, 2108 Division Road and 3014 Weil Drive, and residents and city

officials expressed their concerns over Evergreen’s “lack of transparency” in bringing the homes to the neighborhoods.

“I believe a lot of this could have

been resolved had we known in advance that you’re coming into our

neighborhoods and that

there is a possibility of group homes coming in here,” Favre said.

“All of a sudden construction permits are given in neighborhoods,

and the first time neighborhoods find out is by seeing trucks

tearing up concrete.”

Kent Craft, executive vice president of

Evergreen, said the goal of the community homes is to blend in with the

aesthetic

of the neighborhoods and be “good neighbors,” but several

residents said a parking lot is being poured in front of the Olene

Drive home.

Favre questioned the validity of the goal to blend into the neighborhood with a parking lot being constructed.

“Wouldn’t it have been better to put a parking lot in the back ... you now have this great big parking lot and you say you

want to blend into the neighborhood, but you have this great big parking lot that’s sitting out there like a sore thumb,”

Favre said. “Would it not have been better to put it in the backyard? It makes common sense that if you’re trying to blend

aesthetically into the neighborhood that you do what’s best with what you can to make sure you blend.”

Hilda Trahan, Evergreen’s parish

director, said “the only discussion right now has been to take up the

driveway ... and that’s

all that’s been done is the driveway has been taken out and a new

one is being poured. No other plans have been discussed.”

Councilman Stuart Moss rebutted, telling Trahan that the front

yard of the Olene Drive home is “all dug up right now. There’s

a crew out there this minute that’s working on digging up the

front yard to put a parking lot, just so you know.”

Aaron Fletcher, a resident on Division Road, said he and his neighbors oppose the home in their neighborhood and asked Evergreen

and city officials if their neighborhoods are against the community homes, will the city and Evergreen cease construction.

Duncan said officials checked local, state and federal laws and that the city cannot legally stop Evergreen from establishing

homes in the community.

Craft told Fletcher that Evergreen’s

plans are to “be a part of this wonderful community and the individuals

that we serve

will be a wonderful part of this community. Like we all in this

wonderful country that we live in, have right to live in our

communities and those rights are extended to the individuals we

serve.”

Fletcher said he and his neighbors

weren’t aware of a community home moving onto Division Road until “trees

started coming

down,” and he and his neighbors’ rights “don’t need to be

infringed upon by people who force their way into our communities.”

Fletcher said he and some of his neighbors may pursue legal action to prevent the home on Division Road.

Moss said the only action the city can take against Evergreen is to establish that they are a commercial business.

Duncan and both councilmen said they

were unaware of the homes locating in the city because the city doesn’t

typically inquire

into the purchase of homes. Duncan, Favre and Moss said they

weren’t aware until residents began contacting them with concerns.

“(We) didn’t know what was going on in

these homes either, no clue whatsoever,” Moss said. “We don’t do

research on the buys

and sales and the in-between corporations. I’m sorry that the city

did not know, but they weren’t required to bring anything

to us at that time.”

Mike Hanson, a resident on Division

Road, said Evergreen operated “under a veil of secrecy” and has caused

him and other neighbors

to “question (Evergreen’s) motives.”

“We have a group of people in Sulphur

now who are looking to put in an RV park. They took the initiative to

visit with the

people who were going to be impacted by that construction,” he

told Evergreen officials. “You didn’t do that. You came in

and essentially made a purchase under a veil of secrecy. You came

into our neighborhoods and started pushing down trees. If

we hadn’t asked what was going on, we still wouldn’t know. That’s

not being a good neighbor. You have caused distrust and

we are questioning your motives.”

W.D. Ertell, a resident near a community home, said he also “does not want this in my subdivision.”

Sharon Gomez, Evergreen’s regional vice president, said people living in Evergreen’s community homes are “simply people who

learn slower than the average person.”

“They can learn and given the right support they can become productive and contributing members of communities,” she said.

Gomez said people living in the homes are not mentally ill, are not substance abusers and do not have records of criminal

behavior.

She said each home has supervision by

trained professionals and support assistants at all hours, and the

community homes,

which are considered single-family dwellings, exceed local zoning,

building code, fire marshal and sanitation requirements.

Craft said there are five community homes in Sulphur and 29 in Calcasieu Parish and that the homes blend into the neighborhoods

they’re in. “There are no features to the exterior of the homes that single them out as different,” he said.

Online: www.evergreenls.org.