Proposed group home questioned by residents

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Residents of a Washington neighborhood voiced objections to a planned group home during a city planning commission meeting Monday night.


NHS Human Services, of Lafayette Hill, has purchased a house at 511 E. Wheeling St. and plans to move three developmentally disabled adults there.


Neighbors expressed concern that the change would lower their property values and change the tenor of what they say is a “family-friendly” neighborhood with employees coming and going from the home.


NHS agreed to go through a conditional use process to allow the city to place conditions on the home. However, NHS cannot have another group home within a two-mile radius under state regulations.


A hearing on the matter will be held at the beginning of City Council’s 7 p.m. Thursday meeting.


After taking comments from residents, the planning commission went into an executive session to discuss the matter, although a reporter objected that such a closed-door session was not allowed under the state’s Sunshine Law.


Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, agreed, noting executive sessions are allowed for discussion of personnel issues, acquisition of real estate, collective bargaining or pending or threatened litigation. “There is no exception to discuss agency business,” she said. “There is no exception for sensitive issues or those hotly debated in the community.”


Under the federal Fair Housing Act, group homes are considered equal to a traditional family residence. Two of the adults have been together for 11 years, explained a NHS staff person, longer than some traditional families have been together.


Questioned if NHS could build an addition to the home, city solicitor Lane Turturice said the Fair Housing Act allows changes just as any other resident could make under the city’s zoning ordinances.


NHS is interested in extending the home’s driveway to allow for off-street parking should any resident have a visitor.


Tinnesia Snyder, regional executive director for NHS in Western Pennsylvania, said the agency has had a presence in Washington County since 1999. It operates four group homes and provides numerous other services such as elder care, behavioral health, a day program and an after-school program for autistic children.


The business’ website indicates it has 671 “program locations” in seven states, serving more than 50,000 adults and children.


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