Residents fighting complex Fallston area would be site for youth home

December 13, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Along a two-lane stretch of Harford Road in Fallston where residents have long cherished the quiet rural surroundings, a war is raging over a neighborhood's future.

Enraged by the prospect of a 10-building foster-care complex for 60 abused and neglected children at Harford and Reckord roads, residents have gone to court to challenge an agency of the United Methodist Church.

The next skirmish in their 2-year battle is set for Tuesday in Harford County District Court. There, a judge must decide if the church's Board of Child Care can build the group home on its 26 acres, as the county's Zoning Board of Appeals has ruled, or if residents are right in suggesting their community is no place for the $5 million-plus complex.

"What we're opposed to is very simple," says Salvatore Glorioso. "They want to put up a commercial facility on a rural property that has no public services -- no water, no sewerage, no public transportation, no security. And we're just supposed to accept it."

Mr. Glorioso, his wife, Joyce, and their two children live in the 2900 block of Harford Road, across the street from the site of the proposed complex.

The couple moved to the brick rancher Mrs. Glorioso's parents built shortly after marrying 16 years ago. Their 6 1/2 acres include a barn and a pasture where their children can ride their horses.

The neighborhood is dotted with modest homes built of different designs, various outbuildings and an occasional small farm. It has barely changed in two decades, and that's the way the Gloriosos like it.

A little farther north on Harford Road, next-door to the site of the proposed home, live Jim and Sharon Martinek, 27-year residents who have raised four children on their 1 1/2 acres.

"This is a middle-class neighborhood that has been stable for many years. People are friendly, but they don't meddle in one another's affairs," says Mr. Martinek, who posted a sign on the edge of his property in October to alert drivers northbound on Harford Road to his plight:

"Proposed site: Group home . . . for 60 abused juveniles. No public utilities," it reads, with an arrow pointing next door, to the mostly wooded lot the United Methodist Church has owned for (( 18 years.

The Martineks and Gloriosos are among 40 families in the Fallston Meadows Homeowners Association, which is leading opposition to the foster-care complex. The association formed 20 years ago to fight a Reckord Road trucking firm's plans to expand.

The community won that fight, and the organization remained inactive until about two years ago when Baltimore County residents shot down the Methodist Church's effort to build a foster-care complex there.

Board of Child Care leaders reset their sights on Harford County, and Fallston Meadows neighbors geared up for a new battle.

The Board of Child Care wants to build a complex of five "cottages" housing 12 children each. Plans also call for an administrative building, a maintenance building, a commercial kitchen, a gymnasium with a swimming pool and a three-car garage.

The children, referrals from Social Service agencies across the state, would range from 2 to 17 years old. They would include long-term residents as well as youngsters sent there for emergency shelter.

All the residents would be victims of physical or emotional abuse or neglect -- children who had been removed from their homes by authorities because they were considered in danger.

Such a group home is long overdue in Harford County, says Larry Berardelli, Harford County director of Social Services.

"Harford County has over 200 children in foster care today," he says, including individual homes, group homes and residential treatment centers. The need is so great, he says, "we've got kids placed as far away as Georgia and Florida."

While most of the children are in individual foster homes, he says, a greater need exists for group homes where children with emotional problems borne of abuse can get proper supervision and counseling.

"They need structure and professional help that a normal foster home cannot provide," Mr. Berardelli says. "They need a neutral environment."

That may be so, say Fallston residents, but their rural corner of the world isn't it. Chief among their objections is the lack of public utilities.

The Martineks, for instance, worry about water. Many of the wells in the area are old and shallow, says Mr. Martinek, and some, including his, have gone dry over the years. The group home's projected use of 6,300 gallons a day is way out of line with other homes in the area, he says.

His neighbors add that that septic systems routinely fail, that traffic is already too heavy and that the Fallston schools can't handle more children.

And, residents say, the proposal is inconsistent with Harford County's master plan for managing growth. Key to building the complex is a special zoning exception needed to put a group home on land zoned for agricultural or rural residential use.

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