City Council Holds Public Hearing and Makes Final Decision on Special Use Permit for 99 Johnson Street

The LaGrange City Council has discussed the application for a special use permit for 99 Johnson Street for some time now. The Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment has applied for this special use permit to utilize the building at 99 Johnson Street as a group treatment facility. This group treatment facility would be the only of its kind in La-Grange, as it focuses on trauma victims.This women’s only center would be a place for healing trauma, and stopping the cycle of victims passing on their trauma to their children. The purpose of the Center for Healing and Attachment is to make a marked change in Troup County by helping women learn to cope with past trauma and to help them and their children to become well adjusted. Their goal is to start at the root of the problem to make a meaningful difference in lives of the women who come there for treatment.

The 99 Johnson Street buildings are currently owned by Twin Cedars, and were previously used as a group home. Because Twin Cedars currently has no programs to run in the buildings, they are empty. Twin Cedars was happy to work with the Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment, and the Center would be leasing the building directly from Twin Cedars. Though the facility is equipped to house up to around 20 people, the Center has stated that they will only house 10-11 people at a time along with a round the clock staff member to make sure that the women stay safe.

The public hearing for this application was held at the LaGrange City Council meeting Tuesday, January 9th. It was met with opposition from some members of the Calumet Village community. Zsa Zsa Heard, Executive Director of the LaGrange Housing Authority, spoke against the location. Heard spoke to the commissioners saying, “If you look at District 2, all of our treatment facilities – they’re there. And why? I found research that said [where] most minority groups or people of color [live], that’s where you dump this stuff – where we’re located.” Zsa Zsa stated that she was not against a treatment facility, but she was against the location in District 2, which is half of the City of LaGrange. Others spoke against the location as well, like William Whitfield, who had lived on Daniel Street his whole life. Whitfield said that his home at Daniel Street, until recent years, had never been included in Calumet Village, where the group treatment facility would be located. He stood in opposition of this “expansion”.

Others stood for the Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment. Kelly Veal, board member for the center, professor at La-Grange College, and expert in trauma and trauma responsive care, emphasized that the Center would not be a rehab, “We’re not a rehab, we’re not a rehab facility, we’re not a substance abuse center. You have to have gone through rehab to come here. You can’t actively be on drugs. We’re a trauma treatment facility for mothers and children.” Others who live in the Calumet Village community spoke in favor of the facility as well. Pastor Michael Roland and Dr. Robert Tucker, who have been working with the La-Grange City Council to improve their neighborhood since 2013, spoke praises for the Center and what it would do for their community. Pastor Roland is even a board member for the facility.

The time came for the public hearing to cease and for the Council to make its final decision on the special use permit. After careful consideration of all the opinions expressed at the hearing, the Council was split 3 – 3 with Councilmen Mitchell, Gore, and Arrington in favor and Councilmen Gaskin, Mc-Camey, and Edmonson opposed. It was up to Mayor Jim Thornton to break the tie. The Mayor explained, “For me, as having to break this tie and as Mayor of the entire city, this is a vote that’s not about the City of LaGrange as a whole, which I represent. It’s not about District 2, which I represent as Mayor. It’s about what is in the best interest of the Calumet Village neighborhood, and I’ve been looking for guidance from the people who live in that neighborhood and the people who are involved in the revitalization work. We’ve heard diversion of opinion, but at the end of the day, I’m going to sit here and tell you, and I’m probably going to offend a lot of people in the room when I say this, but I don’t know any two men who have done more hard work trying to improve their neighborhood than Robert Tucker and Michael Roland. I am convinced and convicted by their testimony tonight that this will ultimately be a good thing for their neighborhood, and therefore, I break the tie in favor of the application.”

With that, the LaGrange City Council finished its first big public hearing and difficult vote of 2018 in approval of the special use permit for The Calumet Center for Healing and Attachment to utilize the buildings at 99 Johnson Street.