By LindaReilly

SPIRIT correspondent

The Upper Darby Zoning Hearing Board approved a group home application last week that was held for further study after the presentation in July.

Numerous residents and officials voiced their concern during more than two hours of testimony.

Emmaus Home and Henri Investment Consulting Company received a special exception to permit group living quarters for four adults with development disabilities, some with autism, and two live-in supervisory adults in the 3900 block of Cedar Lane, Drexel Hill.

Anne Bradley, executive director of Emmaus, a non-profit organization serving adults with disabilities, informed the board that the property of their existing group home being rented in Essington is up for sale and they have to relocate.

“We are proposing a group living arrangement for four developmentally disabled men and two house parents who will live together as a functional family,” Bradley said at the July hearing.  “The house will maintain the character of other homes. There is parking for four cars. The residents do not drive.”

Zoning Chair Robert White moved to approve the application, citing federal law stipulations for the decision.

“The matter is not a change in zoning or a variance,” White said. “It is a special exception. A special exception is a permitted use allowed when a property owner meets all of the conditions or requirements of the zoning ordinance and thereby obtains the approval of the board. In this case, each of the nine criteria for a group home special exception was reviewed.”

According to White, the applicant met the burden of proving the nine criteria.

This home in Drexel Hill has been approved for use as a group home.

This home in Drexel Hill has been approved for use as a group home.

“Opposition to the Emmaus application was intense and abundant at the hearing,” White said. “The board is well aware of the concerns of the community. However the board is also mindful of the constraints federal law has placed on considering this type of opposition to group
homes.”

Upper Darby Township Council members Thomas Wagner and Barbarann Keffer joined Mayor Thomas Micozzie and state Rep. Jamie Santora (R-163), voicing their concerns with 11 others who spoke including Mary Hayes, of Cornell Ave., who turned in a petition with
125 signatures of residents opposed.

Other officials present who did not testify included Council members Jack Bierling, Ed Monaghan, Bob Gwin and Patrick Spellman and Upper Darby School Board member Lee
Jordan.

“The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 make it unlawful ‘to discriminate in the sale or rental, or to otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any buyer or renter because of a handicap,” White said reading from a prepared statement.

“The federal law requires the township to accommodate disabled persons by making changes in rules, policies, practices or services as is necessary to provide such person with access to housing that is equal to that of those who are not disabled.”

White announced that federal courts specifically rejected municipal restrictions on group homes based on general perceptions about disabilities and unfounded speculations about threats of safety.

“I am unable to find any reason to deny the application which would not withstand a challenge in federal court,” White said.

White encouraged the applicant to provide additional information to community members to “quell any concerns.”

The vote on approving the special exception was unanimous.

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