A fight is brewing in a Mesa neighborhood over plans to open a group home for ex-convicts and recovering addicts.
The nonprofit organization Welcome Home has purchased property at 2457 E. Edgewood Ave., close to Lindsay Road and Southern Avenue, and hopes to have six people living in the home in the next couple months.
The founder of Welcome Home, John Volken of Canada, describes the program as an academy dedicated to helping those who need a second chance.
"These are people who really want to change their life," Volken said. "Our guys realize they have made a mistake and want to get their life together."
Volken hosted a public meeting attended by about 100 neighbors Tuesday night and was met with vocal and, at times, volatile opposition.
"I moved here because I wanted my neighbors to have enough money to move next door to me," said Shelley Reimann, whose house is next to the planned group home. "You are ruining my life."
Reimann said she was going to have to move.
"With all due respect, you are not welcome in this neighborhood," another resident said. "And we will do everything possible to stop this."
Meeting attendees also expressed concern over their children's safety and area property values.
Volken said he was disappointed by the negative reaction from the neighbors, but that his plan to open the home hasn't changed.
The organization would start with six occupants and eventually house up to 10. Volken said he plans eventually to find a larger parcel to house 50 or 60 people, and that the Mesa home would be temporary.
Welcome Home does not allow sex offenders or violent criminals, and residents in the Mesa facility would be closely monitored, Volken said.
Volken started the company four years ago and now operates two sites in Canada and two in Washington.
District 2 City Councilman Mike Whalen attended the meeting and told neighbors he understands their concerns.
"It's a good neighborhood," he said. "I understand why you want to protect it."
Whalen has reached the city's term limit and will be out of office in June. He has been promoting passage of a citywide ordinance to place zoning limits on group homes and said he would continue to help once he leaves the council.
"I will tell you I will be extremely vigilant and watch how they operate and make sure I do everything in my power to make sure they don't get around the (Americans with Disabilities Act)," Whalen told the Tribune.
Alex Finter, who will take Whalen's place on the council starting June 2, also lives in the neighborhood.
"I don't think that neighborhood or any neighborhood is an appropriate place to put individuals who may cause concern to the residents," he said. "I will look for every opportunity to see if there's a legal way we can prohibit halfway houses or anything along those lines from operating in neighborhoods."
Mesa does not currently regulate group homes, although there is an effort under way to enact an ordinance allowing more control over the location and operation of group homes.
The city does require registration of "group homes for the handicapped," which allows people to live in a group environment as long as they meet the definition of "handicapped" as set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, "handicapped" includes drug addiction and alcoholism, though it does exclude people who use those controlled substances.
In Mesa, group homes must be located 1,200 feet away from one another.
Welcome Home has met the 1,200-foot requirement, zoning administrator Gordon Sheffield said.
But the city is in the early stages of reviewing the company's plans and has not yet determined whether the facility would be considered a group home for the handicapped.
Welcome Home board member Paul Christensen said the home would probably be classified as a social rehabilitation center.
He said the organization would work with the city, and, if it had to change its scope to only deal with those recovering from addiction, that would be fine.
"I'm sure there are more than enough people who need help," he said. "We're not discriminatory."