Officials defend proposed group homes

HOWLAND — Two group homes for the developmentally disabled planned for the township have raised questions about their location in a residential area and why neighbors weren’t told.

Gateways to Better Living Inc. in Austintown was given building permits June 13 for the single-family style houses for up to six people, one at 1165 Henn Hyde Road NE and the other at 9690 Cain Drive NE. Construction began shortly thereafter.

Township officials said the residences are not halfway houses for convicts or recovering drug addicts, but will serve people with a variety of disabilities.

State law allows homes of this kind to be operated in a residential area, according to officials. All the developer had to do was pull a building permit and adhere to township zoning requirements to move forward with the project. No public hearing was necessary to build a group home.

Township Administrator Darlene St. George said group homes can’t be “zoned out” of Howland, and the people living in the homes don’t need the permission of their neighbors to live there. If the area is zoned residential, a group home can open, she said, and there’s no reason to believe a group home will have a negative impact on a neighborhood.

“They are building a residential home that looks like any other residential home in Howland Township,” she said. “It meets all the requirements of a residential dwelling. If the facility closes, they can sell it as a residence to anyone else.”

William Border, who lives about four houses away from the site on Henn Hyde Road, but in Vienna, said he initially had a concern the property might house convicts or drug addicts. Although he later learned that is not the case, he’s still concerned and feels group homes should operate in areas designated for that type of business.

Group homes are businesses and the equivalent of a “mini-nursing home,” he said.

“It’s a residential area where businesses are not allowed to be,” Border said. “If I wanted to open a lawn mower shop right next door to one of them houses I wouldn’t be allowed.”

Border said he’s also concerned about proper disposal of medical waste.

“Am I going to find needles in my front yard that fall out of a garbage truck?” Border said. “Am I going to find adult diapers in my front yard? I have nothing against the population. I have issues with a business being in my neighborhood.”

Messages seeking comment were left with the company.

Trustee Rick Clark said he is not aware of any past problems with Gateways, a nonprofit organization that has operated in Trumbull and Mahoning counties for several years.

“I’ve never heard of any issues with their homes and I think they are a first-rate agency,” Clark said.

Trustee James Lapolla said the state licenses and regulates such facilities. “These are not people who are any threat to residents of Howland,” Lapolla said. “They are members of the community and I think they’ll be an asset to the community.”

Trustee Matthew Vansuch said group homes provide an important service and the idea that a group home is the same as a halfway house is disingenuous and an insult to the disabled.

“We’ll make sure they follow township and state regulations and we will welcome them into the community,” Vansuch said.