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Residents oppose group home

February 14, 2009|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. -- An organization that was denied the ability to establish a group home for recovering drug addicts in Kauffman Station said it was disappointed by Antrim Township's opposition to the idea, but added the decision will not stop it from opening somewhere in Franklin County.

In a 4-0 vote Tuesday, the Antrim Township Board of Supervisors denied the request of Fayetteville, Pa.-based Lighthouse to Life Inc. to add group homes as a conditional use in the agricultural-residential (AR) zone, a necessary change before the organization could purchase and convert a 21-bedroom house along Interstate 81 into its new facility.

Julien Vinck, founder of Lighthouse to Life, said he chose Antrim Township because of its central location in Franklin County. The organization will serve recovering addicts in Franklin and Fulton counties.

Despite the proximity of Antrim Township to employment opportunities and social services, Vinck said it also was important his future neighbors be open to the idea of the home becoming part of the community.

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"I have a problem going where we are not wanted," Vinck said.

The residents of Antrim Township made it clear Tuesday the home was not wanted.

"I bought my home 30 years ago in an AR district for a reason," said Bob Smith of Angle Road. "If this comes to pass, I will be an island of AR surrounded by Manito, historical sites and them. Think I will be able to sell my home?"

"I work for adult probation in Franklin County and I have this element (drug offenders) at my work," said Kathleen Robinson of Friendship Circle. "I don't want this element in my neighborhood. Would you want this in your neighborhood?"

Vinck said he felt sad for the residents who addressed the board with concerns of drug-related crime and declining home values, as in his opinion many of their concerns could be mitigated.

"There was such a negative reaction by the community (to our facility), and while I am disappointed, there was so much negative energy in that room, I did not see a reason to fight it," he said.

Supervisor Rick Baer said he voted to deny Vinck's request, in part, because Vinck did not fight for his cause, Vinck did not "sell" the facility well enough to win his vote.

"I had questions that went unanswered," Baer said. "Their presentation seemed not well-planned, their ducks were not all in a row, and they needed to be, especially since they were trying to sell a drug rehab facility."

The residents, however, came prepared to fight to keep their "quality of life," Baer said.

Vinck, who is a former federal program manager, said he easily could have addressed many of the concerns raised by residents had he been given a chance.

Supervisor James Byers said it would have been difficult for Vinck to change the fact that for him, amending the zoning ordinance opened the wrong door.

Much of Antrim Township is zoned either agricultural or agricultural-residential, said Sylvia House, zoning and code enforcement officer. Because the definition of a group home is much broader than the facility proposed by Lighthouse to Life, House said the decision before the board had little to do with Vinck and his organization and more with allowing such a broad use in the AR zone.

Opening the bulk of the township to a concept which many residents in the zone oppose was a risky proposition for Byers, who moved to deny the request.

Since other zones in the township permit group homes as a conditional use, Byers said he felt a door was there if Lighthouse to Life wanted to make Antrim Township its home.

Unfortunately, Vinck said no other zoning in Antrim Township could accommodate Lighthouse to Life. Because the organization plans to operate a greenhouse as a revenue source for the organization, Vinck said an agricultural zone is needed.

While Antrim's residential-2 district permits group homes, it does permit greenhouses, and while the AR district permits greenhouses, it does not permit group homes.

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