Program Director Aaik Van Munster told zoners that RHD's sole goal is to reintegrate people into the community. He did admit that most neighborhoods are initially fearful of group homes housing the mentally ill. But "[a]fter we have some milk and cookies, they understand."
When Zoner Bill Fitzpatrick asked what would actually exclude someone, Van Munster replied recent violent acts. He then added that someone convicted of child molestation "would not have a chance." But a half sentence later, he claimed it would be "extremely unlikely."
A trembling Jennifer Parri, who lives directly across the street, told Van Munster, "I'm very concerned for my children." She added that by the time RHD realizes there's a problem, "someone may be hurt."
"We'll invite you over," Van Munster replied. "They are free Americans. Safety is Number One. For us, for you, for them. We'll keep an eye on them. If there is any doubt, we'll take them off the streets."
Zoner Ken Kraft lives only two doors away from another RHD facility. He feels that experience may have biased him, and recused himself at the onset of the hearing. But when he later asked to speak, as an ordinary citizen. Instead of offering him milk and cookies, RHD Attorney Keith Cacciatore objected, and wondered why Kraft was still in the room.
Cacciatore also called a former RHD "consumer" who told zoners he was provided with lots of support "when I was fragile." He added there the neighbors were no problem. "We even shared a neighborhood cat."
Before zoners made their final decision, Jennifer Parri asked for a continuance and to reopen the record so that other neighbors could testify.
"Everyone in this neighborhood thought this was something connected with Moravian College. We had no clue this kind of facility was coming in."
Without waiting for a ruling from Chairman Gus Loupos, Solicitor Mickey Thompson denied Parri's requests on his own, claiming that reopening the record would "prejudice the Applicant."
But Bill Fitzpatrick, noting that "we don't really have a grasp" and that there is a "disconnect" in Van Munster's testimony, moved to table the matter until the ZHB meets again on August 26. Fitzpatrick's motion passed unanimously, but Thompson stressed that the record is closed.
ZHB member Glenn Taggart was absent.
During nearly four hours of hearings, zoners quickly approved a carport at 2541 Covington Avenue and a church use and parking area at 533 16th Avenue. But they denied Tom Barker's request to approve twin homes on a vacant lot at 629 13th Avenue, where only single family dwellings are permitted.
Representing Barker, Attorney Jim Holzinger argued that a strict application of zonming laws in that neighborhood is confiscatory. But Attorney Joe Piperato, representing next door neighbor Carol Wolf Smith, countered that nothing prevents Barker from building a single family dwelling. He added that Barker just bought the property in May, and has made no real attempt to market a single family home.
Neighbors told the ZHB that this vacant lot was at one time a community garden. Joyce Dawley also presented a petition signed by neighbors opposed to twin homes on that lot, but Zoners declined to accept it because those signing were unavailable for cross-examination.