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Sussex Countian
  • Georgetown could face litigation due to transitional residence requirements

  • In seeking a 500-foot minimum distance between transitional housing facilities within town limits, the Georgetown Town Council is flirting with possible legal pushback from the State Housing Authority.
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  • In seeking a 500-foot minimum distance between transitional housing facilities within town limits, the Georgetown Town Council is flirting with possible legal pushback from the State Housing Authority.
    At its June 26 regular meeting, the council approved 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.
    Several changes were proposed to the report, which is now on its way to the Zoning Department to make changes to the town zoning code, according to Town Manager Gene Dvornick.
    At the recommendation of the SHA, the task force listed in its report a minimum distance of 250 feet between these facilities, in an effort to combat saturation, or the swelling of the number of transitional residences in any one particular area of the town.
    "The basic lot sizes in Georgetown are about 60 feet wide, [so 250 feet] is not particularly going to get us to the objective that we want," said Councilwoman Linda Dennis. "And it certainly doesn't resolve the situation on a particular street which prompted this discussion to begin with."
    Dennis later said she was referring to South Race Street, where several transitional residences are currently located. Despite these proposed changes, however, those South Race Street residences will be grandfathered into the current zoning code.
    "The 250 feet is an issue for me because that is really close," said Mayor Mike Wyatt. "[But] I understand there are a lot of restrictions the state is going to put on this. I'm sure if the folks that put this together thought they could get more [distance], they would have asked for more."
    According to Dvornick, the task force originally recommended a minimum distance of 1,320 feet, but the SHA said implementing a distance that great would likely result in a lawsuit, which the town would probably lose.
    Dvornick said in seeking the state's blessing regarding the 500-foot minimum, he will approach the SHA with a map depicting Georgetown's average lot size.
    Dennis also suggested the council add wording to the report that would require these facilities to provide clinical services to residents who need it. She said this recommendation stems from a recent incident involving a mentally-disabled resident who was escorted out of a public facility.
    "I feel if a resident in one of these facilities had been given the type of clinical services they needed early on, perhaps there would have been a different resolution to the outcome, which was to transport them to a mental health facility for hospitalization," Dennis said. "The problem is not just placing people in these community facilities, but the agencies placing them here have a responsibility to ensure they are in fact getting the services they need to remain productive in their communities."
    Page 2 of 2 - The changes were unanimously approved by the council.
    The task force first met in April 2012 and was charged with identifying how many transitional houses 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.
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