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Planned Virginia Beach Housing Development for the Disabled Sparks Controversy

A private initiative to build a housing development for people with mental disabilities right here in Virginia Beach has stirred some controversy.

Debra Dear, 52, and her husband care for their 31-year-old daughter Lindsey, who has a chromosomal disorder, at their home in the Sandbridge area. Dear looked into housing options for Lindsey in anticipation of the day when she and her husband could no longer look after Lindsey. Finding the existing options lacking, she started a nonprofit organization in 2010 to build a development that met her vision of a safe and enabling environment for her daughter and others like her.

The initiative has received some $3 million in donations and secured a 75-acre plot of land near the intersection of Princess Anne and Sandbridge roads for the housing development, to be called Vanguard Landing. Later, in September, 2013, the city of Virginia Beach reached an informal agreement with the nonprofit to provide a $2.9 million loan at a favorable interest rate.

That agreement set off the controversy, because federal law requires publicly-funded programs for the disabled to provide their services in an integrated community setting whenever possible. Dear says the project, estimated to cost $32 to $40 million to build, will be privately funded and self-sustaining.

Virginia is in the midst of executing a settlement with the Justice Department requiring the state to close four of its five “training centers” – institutions for the developmentally and intellectually disabled – and move the residents to smaller facilities or regular homes. Some parents oppose the settlement, favoring the supervision and oversight of government-run facilities. Others argue that segregated and secluded settings offer less safety and opportunities for rehabilitation.

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