Fallston residents opposed to a proposed foster-care complex in their neighborhood will take their case Friday to the Court of Special Appeals.
At the center of the dispute between the Fallston Meadows Community Association and the Board of Child Care of the United Methodist Church is a $6 million home for 60 abused and neglected children that the church wants to build at Harford and Reckord roads.
The community association is appealing a December 1992 Harford County Circuit Court decision by retired Circuit Judge Broadnax Cameron Jr. that upheld a special exception allowing the church agency to build the 41,500-square-foot complex on land zoned for agricultural use.
In court papers filed in the Court of Special Appeals by Baltimore attorneys Paul W. Grimm, Gina M. Harasti and Pamela S. Foresman, the residents argue that Judge Cameron's ruling contradicted evidence that the home would "adversely impact the safety, health and general welfare of the community."
In particular, residents say, the complex would put an unreasonable strain on existing wells and septic fields in the rural area where there is no public water and sewerage.
"We have not yet had our day in court," Salvatore Glorioso, president of the community association, said last week. "We have spent innumerable hours and thousands of dollars on this, and we'll continue to do so, if necessary. We're very determined."
The dispute between the church board and residents began more than three years ago, when the church revealed its intention to build a group home on a 26-acre parcel it has owned since 1974.
The complex would consist of five cottages housing 12 children each and five other buildings, including a commercial kitchen and a gymnasium with swimming pool. It would be home to children as young as 2 who had been removed from physical or emotional abuse. The youngsters would be referred to the home by social service agencies throughout the state.
After public hearings in late 1991, a Harford County zoning hearing examiner approved in January 1992 a special-exception zoning permit, subject to several conditions, allowing the 60-bed lTC complex to be built in an area zoned for agricultural use.
Represented by Harford County People's Counsel Robert F. Kahoe, Fallston residents appealed the examiner's decision to the county Board of Zoning Appeals.
But in April 1992, the Harford County Council, sitting as the Board of Appeals, upheld the examiner's ruling. In addition, the board changed one of the conditions, easing the rules on teen-age admissions to allow half the 60 residents to be as old as 17. Previously, the board had said the home would accommodate only children under 13.
Again residents appealed, this time to the Circuit Court of Harford County. But in December 1992, Judge Cameron, acting as a visiting judge, ruled in favor of the church agency, noting that the Appeals Board had a right to change the age of children and that there was substantial evidence to support adequate water supply in the area.
Led by Mr. Glorioso, who owns 6 1/2 acres across Harford Road from the site in question, residents obtained private counsel and appealed their case to the Court of Special Appeals in January.
The community's arguments in this week's hearing will continue to focus on the size of the proposed complex and the potential strain on the existing water supply.
In addition, Mr. Glorioso said, "a major argument is that the court erred in allowing a change in age" of the children to be housed there.
"All the impact studies we did from the beginning were based on young children living there. When you talk about teens, it's a whole new ballgame," he said. "Water use, traffic, schools, public facilities, security needs -- they all change with an older age group. It has a different impact on the community."
On Friday, the court will hear 20 minutes of arguments each from the community association and from the Board of Child Care, which is represented by the Bel Air law firm of Michael E. Leaf.
A three-judge panel will decide the issue. It is not certain when a ruling will be handed down.