By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Where should adults with disabilities live? What if those adults require round-the-clock assistance for daily living? And what if there are no family members able to provide supervision and care?
That’s the purpose of organizations such as Heart to Heart LLC and Orion Care Services LLC: to provide in-home supervision and care for adults with disabilities. Because caregivers are compensated for their time, and are not related to the adults in their care, two Pennsylvania Townships classify their dwellings as Group Homes.
And it just so happens that both Forks Township and Palmer Township require a “special zoning exception” to allow the disabled adults to have a permanent neighborhood home, where they can be integrated into a community, rather than placed in an institutional home.
But residents of two townhouse communities are objecting to allowing Group Homes for the disabled, expressing concerns about adequate parking, increased traffic, and cars coming and going at night. (Quite likely caregivers coming and going during work shift changes.)
In both cases, caregivers have assured the communities that existing driveway space would be adequate parking for two caregivers. The adults in their care do not drive.
In both cases, the 2-bedroom townhouses would serve as permanent residence to two disabled adults, with 2 adult caregivers.
The townhouses have adequate space, including parking. The residents are not apt to be throwing loud parties. As long as the caregiver organizations are legitimate (and the townships can easily check that out), there’s little likelihood of criminal or nefarious activity.
So what’s really behind the objection?
Chestnut Commons in Forks Township is a 36-unit townhouse condominium association. One of the townhouses is currently occupied by two adults with disabilities, cared for by Heart to Heart Care LLC, awaiting approval of its zoning exception.
Wolf Run is an older planned subdivision of single family townhouses located in nearby Palmer Township. It’s unclear whether Wolf Run Townhouses are subject to an HOA. (Active real estate listings online are conflicting, one says “no HOA fees” and others list the nearby tennis courts as a selling point.) The townhouse that would be used as a residence by Orion Care Services LLC was constructed in the early 1990s. But some nearby homes are newer, constructed after 2000.
In early October, Orion voluntarily withdrew its zoning exception application when neighbors objected to the Group Home.
Townships, Onwers Associations risk fair housing lawsuits
Last week, a state Fair Housing organization has put Palmer Township on written notice that a denial of zoning exception for the Orion’s group home could be considered a violation of Civil Rights of disabled persons under Federal Fair Housing laws.
Perhaps Forks Township will also hear from Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania.
Both Forks and Palmer township plan additional zoning hearings in early November. Several owners and residents of both townhouse communities are reportedly planning to attend the meetings.
If the zoning exceptions are rejected, both townships, Chestnut Commons Condo Association, and any neighborhood association that may exist in Wolf Run could be named in a Fair Housing lawsuit.
Below are the relevant news reports from The Morning Call.
Forks neighbors: Group home could disrupt their ‘quiet place to live’
Of The Morning Call (October 18, 2016)
FORKS TOWNSHIP — About 25 neighbors, worried about the impact on their “quiet place to live,” rallied Monday to stop plans for a group home for the disabled in Chestnut Commons in Forks Township.
The condominium home at 21 Chestnut Ave. has been operating for several months but was slated to go before the Forks Township Zoning Hearing Board on Monday for a request for a special exception use.
The zoners continued the hearing to Nov. 7 because the applicant, Manuchka DeCamp, a caregiver for Heart to Heart Care, LLC, didn’t have a site plan. The decision was met with disappointment by neighbors, who were upset that the group home is being allowed to operate without zoning approval and after the township sent a cease-and-desist letter to the property. Currently a 21-year-old man and 49-year-old woman reside in the property. One has Down’s syndrome and the other autism. DeCamp is one of their caregivers.
Group home withdraws application in Palmer over opposition
Of The Morning Call
Palmer Township group home application withdrawn
PALMER TOWNSHIP — A controversial application for a group home in Palmer Township’s Wolf’s Run development has been withdrawn.
Patrick Lilavois, secretary and vice president of Orion Care Services LLC, said he rescinded the application because of opposition from township supervisors and residents.
The group home was slated for an end townhouse at 1388 N. Howard Lane. Orion needed special exception use approval to operate a group home in a medium density residential zone.
“It was causing the neighbors to be upset, so we withdrew,” Lilavois said. He spoke to the township’s zoning administrator about his decision on Monday.
Palmer Township put on notice that denying group home may be illegal
Of The Morning Call
A fair housing organization sent a letter to Palmer Township expressing concern that a proposal for a group home in the Wolf’s Run development could be illegally denied zoning approval.
Orion Care Services LLC applied for a special exception to operate a home for up to four people with disabilities at a townhouse at 1388 N. Howard Lane.
Township supervisors decided to oppose the proposal at their meeting last week, and about a dozen neighbors showed up to a Zoning Hearing Board meeting Tuesday where the proposal was slated for discussion.
The neighbors didn’t have a chance to voice their concerns because the zoning board postponed the hearing. Zoners asked for more information and input from the planning commission, instead.
The Housing Equality Center of Pennsylvania, a Fort Washington-based organization, sent a letter to Palmer officials and zoning board members Tuesday that warned them that denying the group home would violate the Fair Housing Act.