Plan for shelter for abused kids gets new life

January 07, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

A plan to build an emergency shelter for neglected or abused children near the Baltimore-Carroll County line, which seemed all but dead a year and a half ago, has come back to life.

The plan by the Methodist Board of Child Care to build a shelter for 60 children off Liberty Road in Chapeldale drew much controversy when it was proposed in 1987. In 1989, the Maryland Court of Appeals shot down the plan by ruling it shouldn't be exempt from local zoning laws, as are government agencies, because it was only serving as a contractor to supply a government social service.

But the proposal has been revived. A public hearing on it has been scheduled next month by a committee of the Baltimore County Planning Board.

The hearing would precede a board decision on whether to recommend to the County Council a change in county zoning laws that would allow the Methodist group to build the shelter on 15 acres it owns on the southwest side of Liberty Road, just south of Wards Chapel road.

Without the change, the home would be limited to 15 children, and would not be feasible at that size. The proposed change would allow a home for up to 100 children as a special zoning exception on land zoned RC-5, which means rural-residential one-acre lots, but without public water or sewer service.

The plan's revival will likely renew a long-standing struggle between shelter advocates, who believe that opposition is merely due to the usual "not in my back yard" suburban syndrome, and some neighbors, who claim the project could harm their private water and sewerage systems.

The residents won their case in August 1989 when the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that the Methodist home should not be exempt from local zoning laws.

The zoning law change proposed by the county Planning Department staff last week to allow a new, specially defined Residential Care Facility for Children would first require the county Department of the Environment to approve water and sewerage facilities.

Any such facility must be licensed by the state health department, and would be subject to a special public zoning hearing. Also, the proposed law would specifically exclude treatment facilities for emotionally disturbed children from coverage.

"There's always a need for this sort of place. It provides a very useful service," said Camille Wheeler, county director of social services.

With the economy hurting, "we're seeing more and more pressure on families," she said. With the shortage of foster homes, an emergency shelter is needed so that neglected or abused children can be evaluated before they are placed in more permanent homes.

Claude F. Libis, director of the Methodist Board, said he now is looking at sites in Harford County for the home, and may not use the Chapeldale land anyway. The Methodists operate two smaller shelters in western Baltimore County, in Rockdale and Reisterstown.

In the past, Libis has said that social agencies and non-profit private groups are constantly stymied in trying to provide desperately needed services for children because of opponents who hide behind local zoning laws.

"We find over and over that children's homes are faced with this bTC kind of opposition," Libis said in 1988. "We're doing a job the state can't do."

In his letters to the planning panel to oppose of the zoning change proposal, attorney Arnold Fleischmann, representing the Chapeldale residents, accused county planners of presenting "a one-sided view of the controversy."

Fleischmann charged that the only reason the Methodists want to build the facility in Chapeldale is that the land was cheap, costing $110,000 in 1986, and that is was cheap largely because it has no public water and sewer. Fleischmann said he thinks such facilities should be built in residential zones with public utilities.

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