Church told it can­not op­er­ate re­cov­ery house

Zon­ing Hear­ing Board rules against fa­cil­ity al­ready serv­ing drug and al­co­hol ad­dicts in West Park

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drew Waga­man

An Al­len­town church can­not op­er­ate a re­cov­ery house in West Park after city zon­ers ruled it doesn’t meet the def­i­ni­tion of a group home.

The Zon­ing Hear­ing Board voted 2-1 this week to deny Al­len­town Vic­tory Church’s re­quest to con­sider the al­ready op­er­at­ing home at 1447 W. Hamil­ton St. a spe­cial-ex­cep­tion use in the city’s high-den­sity res­i­den­tial zon­ing district.

Pas­tor Matthew Ca­tri­cola said up to 11 re­cov­er­ing drug and al­co­hol ad­dicts, in­clud­ing in­mates on work re­lease and peo­ple re­cently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness, have lived at one time in the three-story, 4,500square-foot twin since the Chris­tian-liv­ing re­cov­ery home opened in Fe­bru­ary. He asked the zon­ing board to al­low up to 15 res­i­dents in the 15-room build­ing.

Prospec­tive res­i­dents must agree to a num­ber of com­mit­ments and re­stric­tions to live in the home. Those ac­cepted are asked to com­mit for at least nine months to a re­cov­ery pro­gram but can leave at any time. To stay, res­i­dents must at­tend Bi­ble stud­ies, prayer meet­ings and church ser­vices, must look for a job and must com­plete com­mu­nity ser­vice.

They split rent, divvy up chores and ac­com­pany one another to off-site sub­stance abuse re­cov­ery meet­ings and ther­apy ap­point­ments, Ca­tri­cola said. The state has ap­proved the

home as a res­i­dence for peo­ple on pa­role or work re­lease.

Ca­tri­cola said he, a house man­ager or an as­sis­tant house man­ager are on site at least 18 hours a day.

Al­len­town per­mits “large group homes” of up to 12 peo­ple by spe­cial ex­cep­tion in the high­den­sity res­i­den­tial area. But the zon­ing or­di­nance, board mem­ber Scott Unger noted, pro­hibits group homes from serv­ing as drug and al­co­hol re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion fa­cil­i­ties, or adult pre-re­lease cor­rec­tional fa­cil­i­ties such as work re­lease, half­way houses or “sim­i­lar uses.”

The home more ap­pro­pri­ately meets the def­i­ni­tion of an in­sti­tu­tional use, Unger said, which isn’t al­lowed in this zon­ing district un­less an ap­pli­cant demon­strates the prop­erty can­not fea­si­bly be used for any per­mit­ted use.

Alan Salinger dis­agreed, point­ing to a let­ter from a Le­high County Drug & Al­co­hol Abuse Ser­vices of­fi­cial af­firm­ing the re­cov­ery house is not it­self a drug and al­co­hol fa­cil­ity be­cause no treat­ment ser­vices are oc­cur­ring at the lo­ca­tion. Sim­i­larly, the house isn’t an of­fi­cial pre-re­lease cor­rec­tional fa­cil­ity, Salinger said, but sim­ply meets the hous­ing re­quire­ments with which parolees must com­ply.

Board Chair­man Robert Knauer joined Unger in vot­ing to deny the ap­pli­ca­tion.

“Based on what I heard about the pro­gram and re­quire­ments, it’s very sim­i­lar to the pro­hi­bi­tions for a group home,” Knauer said. “I don’t think it squarely fits into the def­i­ni­tion of a group home.”

The board’s de­ci­sion was met with ap­plause from about a dozen West Park res­i­dents con­cerned about the re­cov­ery house’s im­pact on the neigh­bor­hood.

Mer­rily Starkey, who lives on Court Street at the rear of the re­cov­ery house, com­plained about the amount of trash and re­cy­cling she said was left hap­haz­ardly in the back prior to the church get­ting a dump­ster.

Daniel Arm­strong, who lives in the 1500 block of Turner Street, urged the board to keep in mind that the church started the re­cov­ery house prior to se­cur­ing proper zon­ing ap­provals.

“If they can’t even fol­low ba­sic zon­ing pro­ce­dures, we shouldn’t let them ex­per­i­ment with turn­ing a sin­gle-fam­ily home into an in­sti­tu­tion in our neigh­bor­hood,” he asked.

Ni­cholas Sa­ba­tine III, rep­re­sent­ing Ca­tri­cola and the church, said they would most likely ap­peal the board’s de­ci­sion to the Le­high County Court of Com­mon Pleas. He hoped the city would al­low the re­cov­ery house to re­main in op­er­a­tion in the in­terim.

Unger and Knauer over­looked the vol­un­tary na­ture of the re­cov­ery pro­gram, Sa­ba­tine said. The gov­ern­ment does not re­quire any of the res­i­dents to live at this spe­cific house or com­plete Ca­tri­cola’s faith-based pro­gram.


Al­len­town zon­ers de­nied Al­len­town Vic­tory Church’s re­quest to op­er­ate a 15-per­son re­cov­ery house at 1447 Hamil­ton St., which is in the city’s high den­sity res­i­den­tial zon­ing district.

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