That's how Hanover Township resident Joe Janowski feels about a group home proposed by Moravian Development Corporation, partnering with Northampton County, at 3925 Airport Road. Janowski is just one of eighteen people, from concerned mothers to senior citizens, who crowded into a tiny meeting room to voice their concerns last night.
Northampton County Mental Health Administrator Kathleen Kelly told supervisors that the County is partnering with Moravian Development to establish a supported housing program for four county residents as well as two short-term guests. In response to questions from Bethlehem Attorney William Matz, Kelly stated that the group home is for people who suffer from mental illnesses like depression or bipolar disorders, but have no drug or alcohol addictions and no criminal record. "These are individuals who are very capable of living in the community," she stated. She added that the home will be staffed by two "highly trained and skilled mental health professionals" during the day, and one at night. She indicated the home would be funded by the state, and is one of about thirty similar group homes throughout the County.
Stephanie Anthony, a mother of two who lives near the proposed group home, told supervisors that "we already have a group home behind us, and it gets awfully rowdy." She later told me, "We see the cop lights behind our house almost every night."
Neighbor George Werkheiser noted a nearby playground and worried that some residents might "roam" there. That concern was echoed by Supervisor Stephen R. Salvesen. In a booming baritone, he spoke of a person from another group home, "wandering neighborhoods at odd hours of night and peeping into the windows of residents."
But Kelly assured everyone there would be "no roaming" because that behavior only is exhibited by people suffering from "cognitive disabilities."
Supervisor Glenn R. Walbert, chairing in the absence of John N. Diacogiannis, wanted to know what would prevent the County from changing the kind of resident once approval is granted. "What prevents it from becoming a treatment center?" he asked. Attorney Matz assured Walbert that Hanover Township's Zoning Ordinance prevents that from happening.
Solicitor James Broughal told residents and supervisors that the Fair Housing Act requires that group homes be treated like any other residence. "You could have 100 group homes in your neighborhood and there's not a lot we could do," he warned.
An exasperated George Werkheiser retorted, "We give rights to one group of people, take them away from another and then we have to pay for it." But Broughal remained adamant that "we cannot treat this application any differently than any residential request."
Hanover Township Supervisors will vote on the conditional use application on July 14, and Moravian Development's David Roth told Supervisors he'll seek the necessary permits about three weeks after the application is granted. He also told residents that the property will remain on the tax rolls.
Blogger's Note: Despite the obvious public interest, I was surprised and saddened that there was no coverage from the two daily newspapers. Supervisors thought I was there for an Eagle Scout proclamation, but Solicitor Broughal blew my cover.