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Protest against housing complex continues

ROME TOWNSHIP — A proposed project for senior citizens in Rome Township that neighbors there are fighting brought the protest once again before the Lawrence County Commission showing that body was divided on whether the project would help or hurt seniors.

This time the commissioners, who had publicly declined to state their opinion, were asked by resident Brent Gool how they stood.

For the past three years county economic development leaders have tried to bring an affordable housing complex for seniors to the eastern end. Originally, the location was across from Fairland East Elementary School. However, lack of sewer service made that location cost-prohibitive.

That moved the project to build 56 units for seniors 55 years and older to across from Fairland Middle School and near the upscale Wyngate at RiversEdge, that recently opened offering assisted living for seniors.

Residents across from the new site started a petition drive to halt the project, saying it would cause traffic jams, lower property values at the high-end subdivision, bring a possible influx of drugs to the area and harm the seniors there as there is not sufficient police and fire protection for the facility.

Both commission president Les Boggs and commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. said they support seniors but have concerns about the location.

“The safety issue is where I am concerned,” Hayes said.

In a letter sent with an application to get tax credits for the complex Boggs cited his concerns including drainage at the site, opposition from neighbors, including possible drug activity, and fire safety.

“I support the proposed project as those concerns are dealt with effectively,” he wrote.

Pratt said not supporting this project is not supporting seniors and questioned why at the last minute there was such an outcry against it.

“I have supported the project from Day 1 and will continue to do so,” commissioner Bill Pratt said. “When I got appointed to commission one of the things was to make good things happen in the eastern end. We had seen how well the project here at the Marting Hotel was. Now at the 11th hour we have problems. It will support a lot of people who don’t have an advocate and are afraid to speak up.”

Ten days ago the county commission met at Rome Township to hear these residents’ complaints. Also at the meeting was a contingent of senior citizens who had come to express their support of the complex, but Pratt said, were afraid to speak after seeing the manner of the protest.

“My goal is to be their advocate,” the commissioner said. “It is not going to be a drug haven. It will provide construction jobs. I have to support seniors and not when it is politically conveniently for me.”

When Tim Boone, another resident, said the developers couldn’t guarantee there would not be a drug problem, Pratt responded, “That is an insult to me and an insult to senior citizens.”

The complex is a joint venture between the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization and PIRHL Developers from Cleveland, who are applying for tax credits to provide the larger portion of the funding.