Children’s home neighbors seek guarantee | RecordCourier.com

Children’s home neighbors seek guarantee

by Susie Vasquez

Residents living on Haystack Drive have signed a petition objecting to Austin’s House, a temporary home for children that would back up to their Sunridge neighborhood.

Resident Bill Gagnon said his neighbors don’t object to the children’s home, but would like some guarantees from the county that the privately-owned home could not be converted to a halfway house for alcoholics or drug abusers.

“Right now, this nonprofit can do anything it wants and that’s a serious consideration. They have fewer restrictions than we do,” he said.

“We’d like to see something in writing. If they genuinely expect to do nothing more than shelter good kids, they should have no problem writing that agreement.”

Designed to shelter children up to 17, Austin’s House is vital to the young victims of abuse and neglect in Douglas County and it’s long overdue, according to center spokeswoman Linda Cuddy. Right now, these children sometimes aren’t removed from potentially unsafe situations because there’s no place to put them.

The 5,300-square-foot building will look like a residence and is designed to house about 10 children who would otherwise have to be transferred out of the county because Douglas County has no facility, she said.

The neighbors, most of whom are elderly, have received no assurances from the county with respect to the potential for a halfway house at that location, Gagnon said.

Cuddy said she has tried to address neighbors’ concerns repeatedly to no avail.

“I understand their fears if they believe this going to be a halfway house, but these innocent children are victims themselves,” she said. “They’re not a threat to anyone.”

Cuddy responded to other complaints about bright lights and noise.

“The only noise would be children on the playground,” she said. “And there would be no bright lights. This will be a home like any other on the street.”

She invited neighbors to volunteer at the center, to possibly teach the kids how to bake cookies or garden.

“If they do that, they will see what the center truly is,” she said.

District Attorney Scott Doyle said Carson Valley Children’s Center operates under a special use permit and must satisfy those requirements.

“They must come back to county and file for new permit or face revocation,” he said. “Those are the protections local government provides against the concerns raised.”

A few weeks ago neighbors appealed to Sen. Harry Reid, Gagnon said.

“I have contacted the Bureau of Land Management on your behalf and have brought your concerns to the attention of the appropriate officials,” Reid said in a letter to Gagnon.

The proposed site was leased to the county by the Bureau of Land Management, then turned over to the children’s center. Gagnon said he does not expect a response from the bureau anytime soon.

Groundbreaking on the project is set for 10 a.m. June 1.

The project has received significant support.

Local organizations are furnishing the rooms and numerous contractors have volunteered their services in the construction of the building, which should be completed in nine months to a year, Cuddy said.

Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.