A Richmond man cleared an early hurdle to providing mental health counseling services, but doesn’t expect it to be the last.
Social worker Joseph Jacobson made his case Monday night for the Richmond Planning and Zoning Commission to grant a conditional use zoning allowing him to provide counseling services in his 208 E. Main St. home as a licensed clinical social worker. Jacobson was granted the conditional one-year renewable zoning, provided he addressed several Commission concerns.
The conditional zoning now moves to the Richmond City Council for final approval.
First, Jacobson must pave his driveway and provide parking in it for handicapped vehicles and keep a maximum of four client vehicles in his driveway at a given time, the Commission ruled. Jacobson must conduct his sessions in-doors at all times, in groups no larger than 10 people at a time and within his stated operating hours of 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In the process of debating the conditions, Commission member Everett Bowman made a point of expressing the value of Jacobson’s services.
“Mental illness is a serious problem,” Bowman said. “We need to do all we can to reduce it.”
Though he agreed to the Commission’s conditions, Jacobson doesn’t necessarily consider them practical. He said he has no estimated price tag for the driveway work but would have preferred some good-faith forebearance on addressing the issues. Jacobson told the commission during his presentation that he is willing to accommodate persons with physical disabilities by counseling them in their own homes.
Many of his clients don’t have driver’s licenses, he said.
“I cannot afford to meet all the financial obligations in return for a 12-month conditional trial,” Jacobson said. “I would prefer to be ‘tried’ for the next year and if all went well, as I think it would, then I would be more than willing to spend the money to make accommodations in return for a conditional permit that lasted longer than one year.”
Jacobson’s presentation addressed concerns from several neighbors curious about the nature of Jacobson’s services, as well as what he considered previous incorrect depictions of his business as a drug rehabilitation clinic in a residential area.
“I do no work exclusively with substance abusers,” Jacobson said. “I have a wide variety of people with a wide variety of issues that are seeking treatment.”
Nor will his clients be become permanent fixtures in the neighborhood, he said. Nor will his clients be left unattended in his home during counseling.
“Most of the people I see come in the house, see me and leave,” Jacobson said, adding that he is not running a “group home.”
Commission member Bob Dingus repeatedly questioned whether or not Jacobson’s clientele would include minors.
“You said you didn’t have any minors,” Dingus said.
“No, I don’t right now, no juveniles,” Jacobson said.
“But you do counsel minors,” Dingus said.
“No, I don’t,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson clarified a statement in his application stating the benefit of his services to families.
“If I’m taking care of a father, that’s a benefit to the family, the person and everyone,” Jacobson said. “Personally, I could, but I don’t choose to see children or teenagers.”
After fielding further questions about treating minors – to each of which, he denied any plans to counsel them in the future – Jacobson explained to the Commission, “I worked for (adolescents) for five years, they’re way too tough. I don’t see adolescents.”
“I think that explaining myself was productive for the most part,” Jacobson said after the meeting. “It appeared that the few citizens that showed up were concerned about a rezoning and I don’t blame them one bit.”