Sober Living public hearing is Monday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 22, 2014

A crowd is expected Monday evening in Florala, when the city council will hold a public hearing in order to discuss a hot-button issue.

A public hearing is set for 6 p.m., just prior to the regular city council meeting, in order to discuss a request for a zoning amendment that would allow for the Gitenstein estate on Fifth St. to become a sober living facility.

In February, Florala’s zoning board voted 4-2 to recommend rezoning the property, but board members listened for more than an hour as residents expressed concerns over the proposed facility, with more than half of those in attendance opposed to the idea.

Gabriela Engels of Iconsulting Inc. plans the sober living facility as part of her development of a drug and alcohol recovery facility with the former Florala Memorial Hospital as its center. The former hospital, which was closed abruptly last year, will be renovated and used for detox and inpatient care, and should open in May. The Sober Living home will house up to 15 men and two house managers.

Florala Mayor Robert Williamson, who also sits on the zoning board, but was traveling on business and unable to attend February’s meeting, has voiced his support of the treatment facility.

City councilwoman Ann Eason, who also sits on the zoning board, has also spoken out in favor of the zoning change, citing economic perks and moral obligation as reasons.

“Y’all are worried about security? If we don’t get businesses in Florala, we’re not even going to have a police department,” Eason said in February. “We should be embracing (Engels) coming, not tearing her down.

“This is all a win-win to me in Florala,” she said. “What do we learn in church? Love thou neighbors. Be kind to them. We all need to embrace this.”

The city council is expected to take action on the request, which is on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, immediately following the public hearing.