A non-profit church agency has won approval from the county Board ofZoning Appeals to build a $5 million foster-care complex for abused children near Fallston.
In its approval, the board restricted to 30 the number of children over age 12 who could stay at the facility, and it required the agency to post bond to pay for replacing one neighbor's shallow well if it fails as a result of the complex's use of ground water.
Claude Libis, executive director of the United Methodist Board ofChild Care, called the decision to allow the complex to be built at the intersection of Harford and Reckord roads "a victory for children."
"It's sad that it's taken us as much time as it has to get thisfar," said Libis.
Some residents opposed the project because of concerns about the number of teens to be housed and the effect water use will have on area wells.
About 100 people, some wearing hats with cards on them that read "No 4192," the zoning case number, attended Tuesday night's two-hour hearing before the County Council, which also sits as the county's Zoning Appeals Board.
A similar number ofsupporters attended the hearing, applauding when the vote to approvewas final.
In a brief confrontation in the County Courthouse following the hearing, Tim Murphy, a Harford Road resident who has questioned the effects the project would have on his neighborhood, told Libis, "You lied to us."
Murphy was referring to the fact that the Board of Child Care, which previously testified that the facility wouldprimarily serve children ages 2 through 12, asked the zoning appealsboard to eliminate those age restrictions imposed by the zoning hearing examiner.
Salvatore Glorioso, a member of the Fallston MeadowsHomeowners Association, called the appeal hearing "a farce."
"It's on to Circuit Court now. We're not satisfied with the restrictions.At this point, we won't settle for anything less than stopping the project," he said.
The Zoning Appeals Board voted, 6-0, to allow the foster complex to be built. Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, abstained.
The site for the project is in Parrott's district, but she said she withdrew from hearing the case because it had been impossible to avoid contact from opponents and supporters before the hearing.
The Zoning Appeals Board voted to limit the number of children at the complex to 60. It specified that no more than 30 children at the facility could be between ages 12 and 17; all other children must be between 2 and 12.
The residents and a specialist they hired testified at zoning hearings last fall and winter that the proposed foster-care facility could affect their well and septic drainage systems.
However, the agency has received a state permit to draw up to 6,300 gallons of water daily.
The board's decision changed the age requirements set by hearing examiner William F. Casey, who limited the number of children to 60 and said that they must be between ages 2 and 12, with the exception of older siblings of children at thefacility.
Libis said the agency sought to eliminate the age restriction entirely because the Board of Child Care wanted to be free to accept children between 12 and 17 for emergency care even if they have no siblings at the facility.
The agency has proposed building five homes. Each would house up to 12 children. Two of the houses wouldbe used to provide emergency shelter.
"This represents no change in what we set out to do, which is to build a shelter for younger children," said Libis.
"But there's an unprecedented need in this county for shelter for teen-age females. We do not want to be labeled because these needs (for shelter) do change.
"I'm troubled the community feels so injured by this. I have tried to continue to convey they have no reason to be frightened or anxious, but they're not going to hear that."
However, Libis' testimony during public zoning hearings focused on the agency's plan to primarily provide care for children between ages 2 and 12, and for some of their older siblings.
A summary of testimony included in hearing examiner Casey's decision does not include any mention by Libis that teens could be accepted at the facility even if they did not have a younger sibling at the shelter.