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Towson attorney demands state rescind group home license

A Towson attorney has filed suit to prevent Sheppard Pratt Health System from opening a residential group home in his Ruxton neighborhood, and is demanding that the state rescind a license recently issued for the facility.

Thomas C. Costello claims the home is a "for-profit, commercial enterprise," a use forbidden by state law in an established neighborhood and one that violates Baltimore County's zoning code. He has asked the court to void a state license granted in January for the home at 1506 LaBelle Ave., which would house up to six people transitioning from hospital treatment programs for depression and anxiety.

Although some residents might also suffer from substance-abuse problems, hospital officials have said they intend to maintain a drug- and alcohol-free home.

The lawsuit also asks the court to affirm zoning laws for the property, which is across the street from Costello's home.

"Absent the group-home label, this facility would not be permitted under local zoning rules," the suit says. It adds that "an opulent boarding house or luxury hotel" is incompatible with the neighborhood of single-family homes.

The suit, filed last month in Baltimore County Circuit Court, says the home, which would provide "concierge services" to residents at "an astounding rate" of $650 a night and would not accept insurance reimbursement, is not needed in a marketplace that already meets those needs.

"There is no evidence that the wealthy, highly functional overnight guests … cannot find similar services elsewhere," the suit says.

A Sheppard Pratt spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment Thursday.

Costello's suit says the home would violate state licensing requirements, in part because the area lacks access to public transportation.

Community residents have opposed the home, which they claim is a business that has no place in their affluent, close-knit neighborhood. They fear the facility will lower property values, exacerbate parking problems and possibly pose a danger to children.

Neighbors formed No Retreat Inc. to oppose the plan, soon after they discovered that the hospital had purchased the six-bedroom, 5,000-square-foot home for $1.39 million, with intentions of converting it to a facility for wealthy patients transitioning from THE Retreat at Sheppard Pratt. After staying at the Retreat, a private mental-health care facility, patients would live in the house for an average of six months.

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