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4 sex offenders must move

OLD SEMINOLE HEIGHTS — Just steps away from an apartment complex that houses convicted child molesters, a church day care center opened Tuesday on Nebraska Avenue.

Now that children are enrolled at the preschool at John Calvin Presbyterian Church, some of the registered sex offenders next door will have to move.

But not all of them.

State records show that 10 sex offenders live at the complex at 6601 N Nebraska Ave. Of those, four are not allowed to live within 1,000 feet of places where children congregate, a state rule that applies to anyone convicted of a sex crime against a child after October 1995.

The state Department of Corrections announced last week that it will require those four, but not the other six, to move.

City Council member John Dingfelder was among those who voted last year to give the church a permit for the day care center. He said this week that he didn't know back then that some sex offenders would stay, but that it was up to the state.

"Ultimately," he said, "council decided we weren't going to penalize a day care and more specifically the church for having a seedy neighbor next door."

Dingfelder said he's confident the day care center has taken precautions to keep out strangers.

The Rev. Earl J. Smith says his church has secured the facility with surveillance cameras, extra fencing and blinds.

Only four children were enrolled on the school's first day, but Smith hopes that number will grow to about 35 kids, ages 2, 3 and 4.

The issue highlights the problem in finding appropriate housing for sex offenders who have served their prison time.

The four offenders at the complex won't have to move immediately. State officials recognize it will be difficult for them to find new homes.

"As long as offenders demonstrate that they are seeking new housing, we will give them some time," said department spokeswoman JoEllyn Rackleff.

Once those move out, more offenders will move in.

Apartment complex owner Christian Stover says he still plans on housing sex offenders who don't have the 1,000-foot restriction.

They're the reason he bought his complex in the first place.

"These people need housing. There's several of them living under bridges," Stover said. "I figured that having them all under one central location would be a good idea."

Stover said he spent about a year looking for a place and finally found the complex on commercial Nebraska Avenue last year.

The 1,000-foot rule doesn't apply to the church, and Stover said he initially didn't know about its plans for the day care center.

Stover protested, but the City Council gave the church a permit for day care in July 2007.

"I hoped that the day care wouldn't open," he said. "I think it's a horrible location."

John Calvin Presbyterian Church faces a motel across Nebraska Avenue on a stretch plagued by prostitution and drug sales and within a mile of 44 sex offenders and predators.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

4 sex offenders must move 09/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 8, 2008 12:12pm]
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