Benton Twp. introduces ordinance for halfway houses

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON TOWNSHIP — Benton Township trustees are planning standards for halfway houses, though there are none in the works.

Trustees had their first reading of the ordinance to license and establish standards for the specific houses at last week’s board meeting. Superintendent Elden Piontek said there are no halfway houses nor or there plans for one to open in the township.

“This was more of a pre-emptive effort,” he said. “The township does not have any halfway houses or requests for any, but for the safety and welfare of the residents in the future, this ordinance is being proposed.”

Halfway houses are places where people in recovery from alcohol or drugs can live through the state’s Department of Corrections.

According to the draft ordinance, the township would be able to require a full-time security guard at halfway houses, restrict these “sober homes” from operating on daily rentals with the general public, enforce a 1,500-foot buffer from schools and churches and restrict them from residentially zoned districts.

When establishing a new ordinance, the township is required to hold two public readings before the board can vote.

Piontek said the township’s attorney conducted research on what he would recommend for what the regulations and locations would be.

“This is a house-cleaning thing because we don’t have anything to regulate it,” Piontek said. “Sodus Township has one and the city of Benton Harbor used to have one. I suggested it to (trustees) since other municipalities had some halfway houses. We didn’t have any on the books.”

Treasurer Debbie Boothby said township officials have discussed the ordinance over the last four months, prior to it being sent for board approval.

Boothby said a few years ago the township heard the Michigan Department of Corrections was talking about turning one of the older hotels – near the former 84 Lumber along Meadowbrook Road – into a halfway house.

“There was talk long ago, but we haven’t heard of anything like that in years,” Boothby said. “You just want to make sure people are aware that these places can exist.”

No action was taken on the ordinance last week. At the March 15 board meeting, trustees will hold a second reading before deciding whether to adopt the ordinance.

Township residents can request a copy of the ordinance from the clerk’s office.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on March 9, 2016)

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