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Taylor residents oppose proposed veterans center in their neighborhood

http://www.statesman.com/search/content/news/stories/local/2009/10/11/1011taylor.html

By Claire Osborn
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Sunday, October 11, 2009

TAYLOR — A California company wants to convert an empty facility formerly used as nursing home into a trauma assistance center for as many as 88 female veterans, including those who have been sexually assaulted by fellow soldiers.

But some Taylor residents say they don’t want the facility in their town.

“It would put veterans in a situation where they are going to a town that doesn’t want them,” said Cherri Wolbrueck, co-owner of a Taylor bookstore. She talked about her opposition after attending a zoning board meeting where representatives of the company — Center Point Inc., based in San Rafael, Calif. — spoke.

Wolbrueck lives across the street from the proposed facility where veterans would live. She said she fears that veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder might attack residents in the Buttermilk Hill neighborhood.

“They can have an episode where a flashback transports them back into a combat situation, and they can perceive anyone as a threat: an elderly person taking a walk around the neighborhood, or a child on a bike,” she said.

Laura Lambe, the executive vice president of Texas Center Point Inc., which would operate the facility and is a subsidiary of the California company, said the veterans who would be served at the facility would not be a danger to the community.

“We are not dealing with people who are threatening,” Lambe said.

“We have a moral obligation to help veterans,” said Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, an advocacy group based in Washington. “Veterans are the kind of neighbors we want, and it’s safe to be around them.”

Center Point needs to make extensive renovations to the former nursing home and can’t apply for federal grants to open the new facility until the building is ready, said Jose Rivera, a consultant for the company. If the company does not receive federal grants, it might open a center for victims of domestic violence at the facility, Rivera said.

The city’s zoning ordinances include provisions that limit halfway houses and rehabilitation facilities to nine residents and two attendants, said Jean Johnson, a city spokeswoman. The company originally sought a variance, but at Tuesday’s zoning board meeting, Rivera withdrew that request, saying that Center Point is exempt because it is a charitable organization.

The city’s attorney is now determining whether Center Point fits the definition of a charitable organization, said City Manager Jim Dunaway. The city does not think the company provides charitable services, Dunaway said Friday.

“To us, they are providing more of a rehabilitative service,” he said.

Center Point is a nonprofit organization, Lambe said. “All the works and endeavors that a nonprofit undertakes are charitable in nature,” she said.

Wolbrueck said she had collected 200 signatures on a petition asking the city to not grant a zoning variance until the company answers questions at a community meeting.

Other Taylor residents at the zoning board meeting who said they opposed the facility included Naomi Pasemann and Miles Baska.

Pasemann said the trauma center would not provide an economic boost to the town. “We don’t have enough jobs as it is,” she said.

The facility would provide counseling and rehabilitation services to female veterans in Central Texas, Rivera said. It would also provide about 40 jobs, he said.

Baska said he worries about the safety of the facility based on the company’s record. The company provides health and rehabilitation services in several locations across California, including state prisons, as well as at three locations in Oklahoma.

According to a July 2007 story in The New York Times, California authorities were investigating accusations of poor health care that resulted in the stillbirth of a 7-month-old fetus at a center where mothers serve prison terms with their young children. The San Diego facility was run by Center Point.

Rivera declined to comment on the story when Baska mentioned it to him at the zoning meeting.

“Center Point has a good reputation,” Lambe said.

Several people who attended Tuesday’s meeting told Rivera that the trauma assistance center was not necessary because veterans who are victims of sexual assault may receive counseling services from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A VA spokesman did not return a call for comment last week.

cosborn@statesman.com; 445-3871

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