ITALY - A request for a specific use permit to locate a residential Christian growth center in Italy was withdrawn after a packed house opposed the request at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night.

Several city residents expressed their concern for the proposed center, which would have beenlocated at 101 Dunlap, site of a former nursing home.

Greg Fleck with Teen Challenge of South Texas, a division of the Home Missions of the Assemblies of God, said this was a residential facility for people 18 years of age and older. He said it was not a juvenile pre-release program, but is a 13-month discipleship program for adults older than 18.

Fleck said church services would be held Sundays and Tuesday evenings.

Under questioning, Fleck said residents would not be “locked down.” The center would have security, but living in the facility would be voluntary, he said, noting that, eventually, plans were to house up to 50 residents.

Fleck said the organization did not do background checks on possible residents, but did so for employees. Pastor Roy Follis said the center did not take sex offenders.

Longbranch Community Baptist Church in Midlothian owns the building.

Luin McConnell, who lives within a block of the facility, said, “What you are doing is honorable but not in this community. We’ve been through this before and it was rejected. Now, we are back here to rehash a facility like this again.

“That is a dilapidated building,” McConnell said. “My wife has a registered home within a thousand feet of that facility. I feel like you are trying to sneak in here thinking we are a bunch of East Texas hillbillies.”

Donna Gardner of Italy told the commissioners she felt the community has its own problems and doesn’t need residents such as this “going up and down our streets.”

W.O. Harris of Italy agreed that the city has “enough trouble of its own.”

Another Italy resident, Kenneth Crowell, said he was concerned for the residents around the facility.

“It behooves us not to allow this facility to come into our city,” he said, with nearby resident Mark McCray also voicing his opposition.

Josh Droll, who lives on the same street as the facility, said he could see both sides of the issue - and said he could see how people in the community could be rehabilitated here rather than elsewhere.

“There are many, many kids in the neighborhood,” nearby resident Tom Little said. “I asked the school administration if the residents who were still in school would be admitted. We don’t need this type of person in our school system.

“We are not big enough to handle a facility like this,” he said. “I ask that you withdraw your request.”

Follis then addressed the zoning board and withdrew the request.

After a brief executive session, the commission approved a request by Joshua Trees for a zoning change from agricultural and single family to commercial on the east side of U.S. Highway 77 from Harris Street to just past the adobe fence to the south.

Trees said he planned to put in a sand and gravel business at the location.

He said he purchased the property from David South and was told by South and Ellis County that the property was not in the city limits. After starting to move in, Trees said the city contacted him and told him the property was within its limits.

Trees said South had letters from the city and minutes from city council meetings stating the property was not within the city limits.

Saying he was trying to do the right thing and get it straight with the city, Trees said he would request all of his property be annexed into the city if the zoning request were approved.

Pam Williams, who owns a house on Williams Street, said she opposed the zoning request because her house backed up to the property. She said she lives in Cedar Hill now but said she eventually wanted to move back to Italy and build on her property.

Crowell asked about an environmental impact statement, with Trees saying studies are usually done to see how a large housing subdivision would impact the city - typically with water and sewer.

Mike Bradley questioned if a dust problem would come with gravel, with Trees assuring him this would not be a major issue.

Trees said he would have one or two trucks from about 8 a.m.-5 p.m. a day and said he would put up a fence or some type of vegetation barrier if requested by nearby residents.

Following an executive session, the board approved the request change unanimously.

Final approval must come from the City Council, which meets Dec. 10.

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission include Frances Allen, Floyd Elfrink, Joan Grabowski, Vincente Guerrero and Bill Sutherland. Sutherland withdrew from the meeting when discussing the Trees property due to a possible conflict of interest.