Fallston group home for abused children under review again Proposal is going before Harford Co. appeals panel

September 15, 1996|By Beth Reinhard | Beth Reinhard,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A proposed home in Fallston for abused and neglected youths has ignited an intense local debate about the community's responsibility to provide a place within its borders for such children.

The plan -- proposed nearly six years ago by the Board of Child Care, a nonprofit group backed by the United Methodist Church -- would include a residential campus for as many as 40 children, most of them 12 or younger.

The proposal has spawned standing-room-only public hearings, petitions to public officials and picketing in front of government buildings by residents who fear the home would increase crime, reduce property values and strain the water supply.

The next public meeting on the issue will be Oct. 15 before the Harford County Board of Appeals.

"We don't think a residential community should have to assimilate 40 children who have been abused, neglected, are sexually active and may be social deviants or juvenile delinquents," said Salvatore J. Glorioso, president of the 60-member Fallston Meadows Community Association, which has spent $40,000 opposing the residence.

Thomas Curcio, executive director of the Board of Child Care, whose group runs facilities for abused and neglected youths in Randallstown and Reisterstown, said the group home is needed in Fallston. "We're looking to serve the less-fortunate children who, through no fault of their own, are victims," said Curcio.

The fight is about more than whether the residence should be built in Fallston, a town of farms and lots of 2 acres or more. It's also about how government cares for children who have been physically or sexually abused or abandoned.

Glorioso and others argue that such children are best cared for by foster parents instead of "warehoused" in group homes that they say burden peaceful neighborhoods of tax-paying residents.

They also note that it costs the state much less to place children in foster care than group homes.

The state pays operators of group homes an average of $40,000 a year for each child, and pays foster homes an average of $6,600 per child per year for room and board, according to the state Department of Human Resources.

"We're not saying we don't have a responsibility to these kids, but we can't handle a 53,000-square-foot institution here," as is planned, Glorioso said.

But the 2,500 foster homes in the state cannot accommodate all the children who are taken from their families, said Elyn Jones, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Resources, which licenses foster parents.

She said the roughly 90 group homes in Maryland fill the gap.

"Ideally, we prefer foster homes because they can give more one-on-one attention," Jones said. "But there's a great demand for interested families and a big turnover among those who do it."

The Fallston controversy dates to 1991, when the Board of Child Care asked the county for a zoning special exception to build five cottages, a gym, a pool and administrative buildings on 26 wooded acres zoned for agriculture at Harford and Reckord roads.

The Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning approved the plan under certain conditions, including that the campus be limited to 60 youths, none of whom could be older than 12 unless they were the sibling of a younger resident.

The department also required the Board of Child Care to widen Reckord Road, build an underground water storage tank and present a detailed landscaping plan.

Residents appealed to the hearing examiner in early 1992, but the examiner approved the project. So did the Harford County Board of Appeals, though with more conditions.

Of the 60 children, the appeals panel said, no more than 30 could be between ages 12 and 18. And it required the Board of Child Care to pay a neighbor $5,000 for a new well.

Residents then sued the board,but got no help from the Harford County Circuit Court or the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Meanwhile, the Board of Child Care changed some of its plans. It decided to build three larger cottages instead of five smaller ones, consolidate some of the administrative buildings and enclose the pool with the gym.

The county accepted these modifications, viewing them as minor.

Residents, however, viewed them as major and went back to the hearing examiner this year.

The examiner dismissed the appeal, saying it was outside his jurisdiction. At the Oct. 15 hearing, the Board of Appeals will consider the examiner's decision.

"We've lost some innings, but we haven't lost the battle," said Glorioso, of the community association. "We'll go to the Supreme Court if we have to."

Glorioso said his association would accept a much smaller facility with just two cottages.

But Curcio said his group already has compromised by reducing the maximum number of children from 60 to 40.

"We feel we can be good neighbors," Curcio said.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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