Alternative studied for teen home

Operator has option to buy property near Randallstown

`Not dug in on this'

Residents plan to fight juvenile facility in Worthington Valley

February 13, 1999|By Dail Willis and Dennis O'Brien | Dail Willis and Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The businessman whose plan to house teen offenders in Worthington Valley has provoked a storm of resistance said yesterday that he would consider other sites, including one in rural western Baltimore County.

Bruce E. Bertell said he could put the proposed home for eight emotionally disturbed teen-age boys near Randallstown, on a 10-acre site that he has an option to buy, rather than in the well-to-do neighborhood where residents have threatened legal action.

"If there were alternatives presented to me, and it made sense, I would do it," said Bertell, chief executive officer of Family Advocacy Services Inc. "I'm not dug in on this."

The site near Randallstown is among alternatives expected to be discussed Monday in Annapolis at a meeting arranged by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Democrat who represents the Worthington Valley community.

The west county site, in a scenic community of rolling hills, woods, farms and single-family homes, lies along winding,two-lane Old Court Road about two miles west of Liberty Road.

State officials say that money to help Bertell buy the property near Randallstown and build on it -- at a total cost Bertell estimates at nearly $1 million -- could take months or years to obtain. And approval is uncertain at best.

"It's a year-long process -- and no guarantees," said Walter G. R. Wirsching, director of program services for the state Department of Juvenile Justice, which says the group home is badly needed.

Family Advocacy Services, which operates a wide variety of juvenile treatment facilities for the state, with most in Baltimore County, says residents of the group home would include teens who have committed crimes ranging from car theft to breaking and entering

County, state and federal officials have been deluged with calls protesting Bertell's plan for the house at Gent Road and Knox Avenue, a sprawling, half-million dollar colonial. Neighbors say they are concerned for their safety, the safety of their children and their property values.

"Basically, we don't know what's going to happen," said Steven K. Fedder, a lawyer with two young children who lives four houses away from the house Bertell rented for $3,200 a month. He said that if Monday's meeting isn't successful, he will try to block the group home through the courts.

Federal fair housing laws could make it impossible to stop the project through local zoning ordinances, covenants and community restrictions, according to state and county officials.

Fedder is awaiting word from county officials about his request this week for an administrative order that would prohibit the home from opening, based on arguments that it is inappropriate for the residentially zoned neighborhood.

"I'm hopeful that maybe my arguments persuaded them," he said.

Fedder said that if county officials deny his request, he will seek a Baltimore County Circuit Court order to keep the facility from opening because neighborhood covenants prohibit the house from being used as anything but a single-family home.

Arnold E. Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management, said that he must discuss the issue with the county attorney before ruling on Fedder's request.

Hollinger hopes that Monday's meeting will help calm neighborhood fears.

"We come in when the hysterics begin because that's when we hear about it," she said. "The best thing to do is bring people together in a small group -- 200 people yelling don't always hear what's being said."

Representatives from the community, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Baltimore County, and one of the district's delegates are expected to attend, Hollinger said.

Pub Date: 2/13/99

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