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Sussex Countian
  • Town Council looks at changes to transitional housing

  • Georgetown may soon see several changes regarding its transitional and supportive housing.
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  • Georgetown may soon see several changes regarding its transitional and supportive housing.
    At a May 15 workshop, the Town Council reviewed the final draft of a report penned by the Transitional Housing Task Force, which was charged with studying facilities that house the mentally and physically disabled, recovering addicts, parolees, the homeless and victims of domestic violence.
    The report will not be made available to the public until it is adopted by the council during a June regular meeting.
    According to Town Manager Gene Dvornick, the task force first met in April 2012 and was charged with identifying how many transitional residences existed, estimating the financial impact of transitional residences, developing a map showing the existing locations of the residences, developing definitions for various types of transitional residences, identifying a continuum of housing options to include transitional uses and preparing recommendations for any changes to the town zoning code.
    “One of our overriding themes was, and this was a misconception in the beginning, that the goal was not to eliminate these uses, but [determine] how to better integrate and incorporate them throughout the town,” Dvornick said.
    The various types of residences identified in the report were based on the different services required by the people living in these facilities.
    “Someone coming out of prison perhaps needs easy access to transportation so they can get a job,” Dvornick said. “Someone in a recovery mode may not need access to a job, but may need access to counseling for a limited period of time. Then we had some instances where really it’s just a safe place for a group of people to spend their time with a case worker checking in on them.”
    According to Dvornick, the task force recommended that the location of transitional residences should be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood and should not result in any harm to the health, safety, general welfare and scenery of the neighborhood, nor should it result in any impact negatively.
    Additionally, proposed locations should address access to public transportation, employment, neighborhood amenities, community-based services, daycare, public schools and security.
    Councilwoman Linda Dennis, who was the chair of the task force, said the report also recommends that new residences should be required to notify neighboring adjacent property owners of their intention to open a facility.
    “The intention is to facilitate a better relationship in terms of a good neighbor policy,” Dennis said. “This way, you’re not surprised if all of a sudden somebody decides to operate a group home next to you.”
    However, state law does not require the operators of these facilities to notify the neighbors or the town of their presence. Dvornick said throughout the process of putting together the report, the task force found transitional residences in Georgetown that they never knew existed.
    Page 2 of 2 - Dvornick said perhaps the biggest concern addressed by the task force was the issue of saturation, or the swelling of the number of transitional residences in Georgetown. He said at least three areas in town have significant saturation of transitional residences.
    To combat saturation, the task force recommends a minimum distance of 250 feet between transitional residences. Dvornick said the original recommendation was 1,320 feet, but the town saw opposition from the Delaware State Housing Authority, which said implementing a distance that great will likely result in a lawsuit, which the town would probably lose.
    Mayor Mike Wyatt said allowing the residences to be that close together could affect property values in the immediate surrounding area.
    “It just seems odd to me that the state can come in and mandate what you can and cannot do in your own town,” he said.
    But Dvornick said the Supreme Court has ruled against other towns that argued for a larger distance based on projected lower property values.
    Another significant change recommended in the report is combating overcrowding with occupancy limitations that are relative to the size of the dwelling. This would affect the entire town, rather than just transitional residences.
    “Everything would be calculated relative to the size of the structure we’re dealing with,” he said, adding the number of occupants would be based on the number of rooms in the house.
    Dvornick said the report will be presented to the council during a June regular meeting. If the council adopts the report, the town would then initiate a meeting with property owners and hold a public hearing to modify the Town Code. The town would then work with the state to finalize the changes.
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