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Neighbors worry about YMCA center

A proposal to turn a former residential treatment center for troubled youth into a YMCA day care facility will have to wait another month for Planning Commission approval.

The conditional use permit request was tabled until the next meeting after four residents of a nearby subdivision expressed concerns about noise and water runoff, and several planning commissioners had concerns about the safety of the children who would use the facility.

The facilities at the former Hampton Roads Youth Center, located at 275 Kenyon Road, have languished since the center closed its doors in November 2008. It was a private, nonprofit residential treatment program for troubled Hampton Roads teenagers, and included a 9,000 square-foot building that featured residential facilities, an accredited school, a counseling facility and administrative offices. Also on the property are basketball courts and a stormwater retention pond.

Though the Hampton Roads Youth Center, Inc. still owns the property, the YMCA of South Hampton Roads hopes to put it to use. The YMCA is proposing a before- and after-school day care program, as well as a summertime childcare facility. The program would use the existing building, as well as make improvements to the property including softball fields, soccer fields, an amphitheater, picnic shelters, an archery range and other outdoor activity spaces for the children to use.

The YMCA of South Hampton Roads has been providing childcare services for decades, said attorney Whitney Saunders, who represented the YMCA at the public hearing. A current YMCA childcare facility at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk takes the same approach to the camp-like setting, Saunders said.

Residents in the nearby Oak Ridge neighborhood, which is separated from the land by woods, expressed concern about children’s safety, noise and drainage issues. One part of the separation buffer of trees is missing, leaving easy access from the neighborhood to the back of the Hampton Roads Youth Center lot.

“They work with kids, and I’m for anything that works with kids,” said resident Scott Wright, stressing that he’s not against the program.

Wright was concerned about the stormwater retention pond, noting he’d like to have a guarantee in writing that the YMCA will maintain the pond.

Oak Ridge resident Kenny King said he fears children from his neighborhood will be enticed to the recreational facilities and go use them without supervision.

“How are you going to police the children?” King asked.

Resident Leonard Outland was concerned about rain runoff from the land, noise from children playing and their safety with a pond on the property and train tracks nearby.

“There ought to be some kind of fence to barricade kids from getting on the track,” Outland said.

Billy George, chief operating officer of the YMCA of South Hampton Roads, said the organization is “more than happy to work with the neighbors” to assuage their concerns.

“If a child wanders off, we won’t be there for long,” George said, referring to stringent state regulations that would close down a child care center that had repeated incidents. George also noted that the state still must approve the facility, and will likely require a fence between the land and the track.

The commission eventually voted to table the motion until the March 16 meeting to give the YMCA and the neighbors time to work on solutions to the concerns.

Also during the Planning Commission meeting, a rezoning request for Hampton Roads Crossing and conditional use permit requests for Folk City Tattoo and East End Baptist Church were approved.