Foes of planned youth home seek help Strain on Fallston services feared

February 07, 1993|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

Opponents of a proposed home for 60 abused and neglected children have appealed to residents throughout Fallston to join in the fight against the $6 million complex.

Members of the Fallston Meadows Homeowners Association, who took their battle to the state Court of Special Appeals last month, told their Fallston neighbors Thursday night that the complex would affect more than a few rural wells and septic systems along Harford Road.

The opponents warned of "far-reaching effects," saying the nonprofit home proposed by an agency of the United Methodist Church would worsen school crowding, strain fire and police service and contribute little to the tax base.

"The larger community thought this just couldn't happen," Beth Ireland-Brady of Fallston said at a meeting that drew 125 to Youth's Benefit Elementary School. "Now it's rolling along and we've got to do something."

Trish Waskey, a Forest Hill resident whose children attend Fallston schools, said, "I'm concerned about the kids. We haven't been informed about funding for extra guidance counselors or special ed teachers or anything" that the influx of new students would require.

The United Methodist Board of Child Care plans a 10-building complex on 26 acres it owns at Harford and Reckord roads. The church agency has said the children would range in age from 2 to 17 and would be enrolled in local schools. All of them would be referrals from social service agencies in Maryland and neighboring states and victims of physical or emotional abuse or neglect.

"Where will the additional funds come from to support this facility?" asked Paula Webb, a mother of two children who is concerned that the county school budget, already suffering from cuts, cannot support the increase in students with special needs. Fallston Middle School, due to open in September, is expected to reach its capacity of 900 students by 1994, she said.

Residents distributed petitions to their neighbors asking for signatures in opposition to the home and said they plan to deliver the initial batch of them to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann at a meeting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, they said, they feared much of Fallston is unaware of the potential impact of the plans as they enter another round of a battle that has been raging since 1991, when public hearings over the home began.

Fallston Meadows residents contend the proposed complex would put undue strain on the rural neighborhood of modest homes, many with shallow wells and already saturated septic fields. They said an area with no public utilities and average home sizes of less than 2,000 square feet is unequipped to handle a 41,500-square-foot complex.

But in January 1992, a hearing examiner recommended granting a special exception zoning permit, allowing the complex to be built in the agriculturally zoned area. The Harford County Council, which sits as the Board of Zoning Appeals, upheld that recommendation in April 1992.

Residents appealed the county's decision to the Harford County Circuit Court but were overruled last December, when a judge upheld the County Council decision.

Last month, residents appealed again, this time to the Special Court of Appeals in Annapolis, the state's second-highest court.

Pamela Strayhorn, a Baltimore attorney representing the residents, said the case will probably be heard this spring. She said the case is being appealed on the grounds that the complex "will have a detrimental ef

fect on the health and welfare of the community," which includes increased traffic as well as threatened septic systems.

"If you live next to an undeveloped piece of property, you could have the same thing happen to you," James Martinek warned the crowd Thursday. Mr. Martinek, who has lived next to the proposed site for 27 years, said his major concern is that the neighborhood is not serviced by public utilities and has chronic problems with shallow wells.

Stan Pettingill, who lives off Reckord Road, agreed. "I tried to buy that land 24 years ago," he said. "And the reason I didn't is that half of it is a swamp."

Instead, he bought a property across the street. "Just about every house down-slope of that land has well problems," he told the crowd.

Even County Council member Joanne Parrot, who went unnoticed in the crowd for much of the meeting, expressed surprise that the case wasn't remanded to the hearing examiner somewhere along the way. "I think all of this information needs to looked at by Secretary [Robert] Perciasepe," state secretary of the environment, she told the crowd.

But residents on the panel nearly booed her off the floor, still bristling from the fact the councilwoman abstained from voting when the case was before the County Council nearly a year ago.

"The point is we've got to stay involved and stay on top of it," said Mrs. Waskey. "Council people won't tell you what's going on. You have to find out for yourself."

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