Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dozens protest ex-con campus

Would-be neighbors fear for kids' safety By NATALIA MIELCZAREK • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • March 30, 2008 A proposal to build a 30-house campus near Long Hunter State Park for recently released convicts drew so much opposition Saturday that its authors delivered two information sessions instead of one. At least 250 residents from Davidson, Wilson and Rutherford counties — some visibly angry — packed an office building at the state park Saturday morning to hear from a local Christian ministry about its $10.5 million program to reintegrate men with felony convictions into society. Those who came expressed deep concerns for their safety and plummeting property values with such a facility nearby. Many questioned its security and asked Men of Valor, the prison ministry, what benefit it would bring to their area. "There is no benefit," said Mike Marietta, who lives with his wife and a 2-year-old child less than a mile from the proposed development. "I moved out of the city to get away from the drug users and pushers, and now they're bringing them here. They'll be released to our community, and if they decide they want to participate in the program, everything is great, but what about the ones that don't?" The nonprofit Men of Valor wants to build a campus with homes, a softball field, a multi-purpose building and a church-like structure on 53 acres off Couchville Pike near the Davidson-Rutherford county line. The compound would serve as a place for convicts to live and receive spiritual guidance. No sex offenders would be accepted, and all residents would have jobs. The group also said it would let the community use the softball field and called the project a "partnership" with the neighbors. The plan would roll out in three phases, starting with 10 houses for 40 men, eventually topping at 30 homes with 120 residents. Two ministry employees would live on the premises and 10 staff members would be on site during regular business hours. The group has invested $40,000 toward buying the property. "If I'm not going to put a man in my backyard with my 6-year-old daughter and my wife, I'm not going to put them in your backyard," Curt Campbell, programs manager with Men of Valor, told the residents Saturday morning. Volunteer urges support After the meeting, he said he understood why people had concerns about his group's plan but said he was hopeful for a positive resolution. He said the next step is for the ministry officials to get together and decide on course of action in light of Saturday's events. "This is step one in a long educational process," Campbell said. "Trust takes time. I really believe they'll be able to partner with us to do this." The property is now zoned residential, for one- and two-family dwellings, so the group may not need to rezone it, depending on the final development plan it presents. Metro Councilman Robert Duvall, who organized the meeting, asked his constituents at the Saturday meeting to cast informal ballots in support of or opposition to the project. He said he would go with the will of the people. Most said no — except Karla McDonald. McDonald, who lives in Antioch, said she's volunteered with Men of Valor for four years. "I've had these men in my house for dinner, and they've worked for me," she said referring to the released convicts. "The program works. They deserve a chance. To me, it's like with race prejudice: You can either be afraid of them or meet them."

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