October 8, 2011

Foes of 'sex offender' village pack town-hall meeting in Sorrento

10-8-2011 Florida:

SORRENTO — Concerned moms and grandmothers and other residents — more than 500 in all — packed a school cafeteria Thursday night in a strong showing against a proposed sex-offender "village" in east Lake County.

"We moved here for country living and because it's a safe environment to raise children and grandchildren," said Theresa Robertson, who accompanied her son and granddaughter to the standing-room-only meeting at Sorrento Elementary School to protest the plan. "We want to stop this from ever happening."

More than 2,000 petition signatures opposing the concept have been collected, said Catherine Hanson, president of the East Lake County Chamber of Commerce and a former Lake County commissioner.

County Commissioner Leslie Campione organized the meeting after Barbara Farris of Tampa told reporters she wanted to create a special neighborhood, cluster or "village" of sex offenders that would be located far from schools, parks and other places where children gather. Farris, who identified herself as founder of a for-profit organization she called Sex Offender Solutions, mentioned Sorrento as a possible site.

At the meeting, Campione provided an update about possible steps the county may explore in response to Farris' proposal, including an ordinance that would limit the number of sex offenders in a house, an apartment complex or a trailer park.

"We don't need to be somebody's experiment," Campione said.

But one woman in the crowd said sex-offender residency restrictions, such as those Lake is preparing to increase, create clusters and give parents a false sense of security. The woman, who would not give her full name, said there is no evidence residency restrictions deter sex crimes against children or reoffending.

In response, Sheriff Gary Borders said, "We don't want to be a destination…We certainly don't want an offender scanning the state of Florida and saying, 'here's an approved community.'"

Earlier in the day, Farris told the Orlando Sentinel that she was traveling to New York to speak with a lawyer.

"Even if I was able to go, I would not because it wouldn't be safe for me because of the hatred it has provoked toward me," she said. "What many of these people do not seem to grasp is that there already are [sex] offenders living among them and we offer a better solution."

Though Farris' proposal has been vague, her concept mobilized a group of moms who in addition to circulating petitions rallied community support with a roadside demonstration on Sunday and created a Facebook page in another avenue to fight it.

Farris said 2,015 sex offenders have submitted an application through her website, housingforoffenders.com, to reside in projects she envisions being scattered throughout the state. She would not rule out possible locations in Lake, Orange and Seminole counties, although she said she lost contracts with landowners who feared reprisals if they allowed sex-offender communities on their property. ..Source.. by Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel

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