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Group home rules, street light fee on Safety Harbor meeting agenda

SAFETY HARBOR — Under pressure from a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, the City Commission on Monday will review an ordinance that loosens regulations on where group homes can be located.

The local law in place mirrors state statutes, which limit small group homes from moving within 1,000 feet of another such home without obtaining special approval. Proposed revisions would remove that distance caveat.

Safety Harbor fell under federal scrutiny after the city initially denied a request by a group home for mentally disabled men to set up in Harbor Woods Village, close to an existing assisted-living facility.

The city eventually settled with the group home operator in September for $400,000 and allowed the home to open in the neighborhood. But the Justice Department wanted more.

In a letter, a Justice official asked whether the city intended to repeal its rules, "to treat family care homes like housing for people without disabilities under the City's zoning code, without conditions or restrictions."

Safety Harbor officials have indicated that they believe the Justice Department won't pursue legal action if the city strikes the distance restriction from its code.

The group home that triggered the investigation opened earlier this month, housing six men ages 16 to 26.

Neighbors have complained several times to the city over parking outside the group home, saying vehicles are obstructing the sidewalk. But code enforcement officials haven't written any violations.

The commission meeting starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 750 Main St.

Also on the agenda: The first public hearing on implementing the city's new street light fee, which would assess $50.97 this fiscal year on homes that benefit from public street lights.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Group home rules, street light fee on Safety Harbor meeting agenda 11/30/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 30, 2012 6:35pm]
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