Many opposed to facility for sex offendersInvoking the memory of Jeanna North, a Fargo girl murdered by sex offender Kyle Bell, members of a northside neighborhood convinced the city’s Planning Commission on Wednesday to reject an effort to turn a home into a boarding facility for sex offenders.
By: By Helmut Schmidt , Forum Communications Co. , The Jamestown Sun
FARGO — Invoking the memory of Jeanna North, a Fargo girl murdered by sex offender Kyle Bell, members of a northside neighborhood convinced the city’s Planning Commission on Wednesday to reject an effort to turn a home into a boarding facility for sex offenders.
Jaime Kreider told a standing-room-only crowd at the public hearing that letting the Christian Sports Commission turn 106 16th St. N. into a group home for male sex offenders was dangerous and unneeded.
“People live in fear in this neighborhood of who is walking down the street,” said Kreider, 1517 3rd Ave. N.
Kreider said sex offenders find other places to live.
“They are a pariah in our society. They are deemed unfixable,” said Kreider, who was a friend of North. “You talk about these men’s civil rights. What rights do our children have?”
After two hours of testimony, the commission voted 5-2 to deny a conditional use permit for the project, finding the group home plan didn’t fit the area’s commercial zoning.
Larry Swatfager, 218 16th St. N., owns a house and land north of the proposed group home. He said there are schools, parks and school bus stops nearby.
Swatfager said some of his neighbors carry guns for protection.
“If you put something like that in our neighborhood, someone is going to get shot sure as hell,” Swatfager said.
Craig Richie, a spokesman for the Christian Sports Commission, asked the commission to approve a conditional use permit to turn the home into a facility for up to 12 people.
“These guys are in the community now” and it’s difficult for them to find housing, Richie said.
Richie said his group had an option to buy the home for $93,000 by March 1. He said volunteers would be on duty at all times to monitor the home.
“If it’s not here, it’s nowhere,” said Richie, who has sought a good site for eight years.
Barbara Breiland, Fargo’s program manager for the state Department of Corrections sex offender unit, said there are 90 sex offenders on probation in the city and 150 registered sex offenders overall.
She said they are monitored by global positioning system devices, curfews and strict probation rules.
“They do have a name and they do have a face and they do have a need,” Breiland said.
Stacey Benson, a metro area clinical psychologist, said the only living arrangement that does a better job of preventing recidivism than a group home was jail.
“Fear comes from a lack of knowledge. This is not something to fear,” said Stuart Longtin, a deacon at St. Anthony Parish.
Fargo attorney Jonathan Garaas representing nearby homeowners and business owners, offered a petition against the project with 50 names. He contends there were many problems with the application:
* Heaven House, a limited liability corporation, was listed as the buyer on papers filed Dec. 17, but was not legally recognized by the state of North Dakota for another two weeks, putting the validity of the application in doubt.
* Parking, setback and landscaping issues weren’t addressed.
* Descriptions of the property’s condition conflict, creating doubt whether the home is fit for 12 people.
* Only neighbors within 300 feet of the home had been told a conditional use permit was being sought, and at first, people were told it would just house college students.
“Fear comes from lack of knowledge. So why did we find out just a couple of days ago?” said Paul Mohrer, 1529 3rd Ave. N. “I guess I’m going to do everything I can to oppose it.”
Police Chief Keith Ternes said having sex offenders in stable housing makes checking on them easier.
Ternes said 66 sex offenders live within a one-mile radius of the proposed group home site.
He added that the neighborhood has not seen police calls rise due to having the New Life Center shelter and Centre, Inc., detox facility there.
Commission President John Paulsen and commissioners Peggy Palmes, Jan Ulferts-Stewart, Kristy Fremstad and Jeffrey Morrau voted to deny the conditional use permit request, while Catherine Wiley and Rich Slagle voted to allow it.
Helmut Schmidt is a reporter at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by
Forum Communications Co.