Children's center foes appeal zoning approval


A group of residents has filed an appeal in Harford Circuit Court to stop a non-profit church agency from building a $5 million complex for abused children near Harford and Reckord roads.

Robert F. Kahoe Jr., of the Harford's People's Counsel, filed the appeal for the group May 6. The People's Counsel is a legal service that is usually free for county residents fighting zoning issues.

The United Methodist Board of Child Care has been trying since last fall to win approval to build a foster home for up to 60 children.

The agency, which operates a home for teens on Gaither Road in Baltimore County, needed a special zoning exemption to build the Harford complex because the area is zoned for agriculture use.

Last month, the County Council, sitting as the Board of Zoning Appeals, approved the project with several restrictions, such as limiting to 30 the number of children over age 12 who could stay at the facility. The board also required the agency to post a bond to pay for replacing one neighbor's shallow well if it fails as a result of the facility's use of ground water. The agency has state approval to draw up to 6,300 gallons of ground water daily.

Members of the Fallston-Meadows Homeowners Association have fought the project, citing concerns over the number of teens the facility will accept and the effect the center's water use will have on area septic and drainage fields. The area does not have public water or sewer service.

Joyce and Salvatore Glorioso, who live across from the site of the proposed complex, are among those opposing the project.

Agency administrators testified repeatedly at public zoning hearings that the facility would primarily serve children ages 2 through 12, and their older siblings.

When Zoning Hearing Examiner William F. Casey approved the project, he limited the number of children to be cared for at the facility to 60, and said they must be between the ages of 2 and 12, with the exception of older siblings.

But at the hearing before the zoning appeals board last month, the agency asked to have that restriction removed.

Claude Libis, the agency's executive director, said they sought to eliminate the specific age requirement because the board wanted to be free to accept children between ages 12 and 17 for emergency care, even if they have no siblings at the facility.

Michael Leaf, a Bel Air lawyer representing the agency, said the original application was for a group home, with no age restrictions. "It's extremely unlikely the Circuit Court will reverse the Board of Zoning Appeals' decision since it was fully supported by the facts and evidence."

Joyce Glorioso disagreed.

"Mr. Casey put aside some issues, and he made the age restriction the first requirement," said Joyce Glorioso. "If they had said, 'We want a group home just like the one on Gaither Road,' I wonder what Mr. Casey's decision would have been then. At this point, we're basing our appeal on everything that's been said."

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