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Unity zoning hearing board OKs group home on Primrose Drive

Tribune-Review - 3/25/2021

Mar. 24—Neighbors on Unity'sPrimrose Drive are concerned about a new group home for three men with autism, its effect on parking and the people who may be staffing or visiting the residence.

A local official in charge of the facility, owned by nonprofit Community Options, told the township zoning board and audience members at a Tuesday hearing that it intends to be a good neighbor. After extensive testimony, the panel granted a special exception, allowing the home to operate in a residential zone.

Stephen Hall, executive director of Community Options in Westmoreland County, said the nonprofit operates 14 other such homes in the county. The residence in the 400 block of Primrose is its first site in Unity.

"We're here to provide the best life for three adults with autism," Hall said, "We want to give them the best home possible. It's a great home, a great neighborhood."

Hall indicated the young men are on the higher-functioning end of the autism spectrum, with one holding down a job, and have no criminal records. He said staff supervise the home around the clock, keep visual tabs on the men when they are in the surrounding yard and accompany them when they leave the property.

Hall told neighbors the men are "not going to take your property value down. They're not going to hurt you. They're people with autism."

Hall said the Primrose Drive house meets a township requirement that it not be within 500 feet of any other group home. The township also requires that measures be in place to protect the health and safety of the home's occupants and of the surrounding neighborhood.

The home is equipped with a smoke detector system, Hall said. He said it has received all needed state approvals and is subject to an annual licensing inspection. Staff complete two weeks of training, including CPR and first aid, and a registered nurse and behavioral specialist are available, he said.

Brad Kilkeary, who lives opposite from the home on Primrose, said as many as a dozen cars were parked along the street, some blocking his driveway, though he said the problem has eased.

Hall apologized for parking issues that began in January, when the three residents moved in. He said staff since have been advised to keep their cars in the home's driveway and to avoid parking on the street.

Another neighbor, Jody Brahosky, said, because there are no sidewalks, cars that park on the street can force children into traffic as they walk through the neighborhood.

She expressed the belief that two weeks of training isn't sufficient for the group home staff and wondered about employee turnover. "Who is coming in and out of the house?" she asked.

Hall invited neighbors to contact him if they see anything unusual happening at the home.

Juli Cehula, a township resident and behavioral specialist for Community Options, said she's not concerned that there will be safety issues at the Primrose Drive home. "I know those (staff) that are going in there care particularly about those individuals and will do anything for their safety," she said.

A majority of zoning hearing board members agreed that the Primrose Drive residence meets the requirements for a group home and approved the special exception.

"Real estate can never be discriminatory," said board member Jackie Nindel. "You can't ever discriminate against disabilities or race or sex."

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, or via Twitter .


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