The Pasco County Planning Commission has waived the requirement for a conditional use permit in connection with a Wesley Chapel group home for at-risk youths.
The planning board unanimously approved the request for the waiver during its March 3 meeting.
Elevated Youth Services can now exceed the previous maximum of six residents at its residential treatment facility, provided the residential treatment facility meets negotiated conditions.
The group home is for young men, ages 13 to 17.
The planning board originally heard the request to waive a conditional use permit requirement for the home at its Jan. 6 meeting.
The issue was continued, however, after both planning board members and neighbors raised a number of questions about the proposed operations.
Neighbors wanted to know how potential group home residents would be screened. They also wanted to know how the youths would be supervised.
Area residents also raised concerns about the group home’s capacity to handle the potential number of occupants, asked about the sufficiency of the home’s septic system, cited existing problems with drainage, noted a lack of sufficient play areas and pointed out that there’s not enough room for parking.
Some planning board members also pressed for more details on how the residents would be selected and what steps would be taken to protect the existing neighborhood.
The request was continued, as Chief Assistant County Attorney David Goldstein negotiated conditions of approval with Dan McDonald, a fair housing attorney representing Elevated Youth Services, the operator of the group home; and, Robert Lincoln, an attorney representing Noelle Munroe, who lives three doors down from the group home.
Goldstein said the group home is intended for youths who have been living in foster homes and who have experienced human trafficking or are at risk of being trafficked. He said the Pasco County Commission supports efforts aimed at addressing the trafficking problem.
Here’s a summary of some of the conditions that the attorneys negotiated. They must be met if Youth Elevated Services wants to exceed six residents at the group home:
- Occupants in the facility shall be limited to minors with handicaps or disabilities, as defined by the Fair Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as adults supervising those minors.
- The facility is limited to 16 minor residents or occupants (and adult supervisors), permitted by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) — or limited by applicable building codes (fire code, sanitation, health), whichever is more stringent.
- The facility shall be licensed by DCF and shall not be licensed by the Department of Juvenile Justice.
- The admissions screening process for the facility shall exclude residents who have been adjudicated based on charges of sexual assault, juvenile sexual abuse , violent crimes or their equivalent. The facility shall not accept residents who pose a direct threat of harming others, and the facility shall make that determination based upon an individualized risk assessment and psycho-sexual evaluation. Residents at the facility cannot be deemed as posing a high risk for harming others.
- The facility will create an advisory board and will offer a seat on that board to at least one member of the neighborhood who lives within 2,500 feet of the group home. The board also will include a seat on that panel for a member of the county’s community services department or the county’s Commission on Human Trafficking.
- The facility shall maintain at least one adult supervisor for every four minor residents.
- The minor residents will be under adult supervision or on a school campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The minor resident shall be deemed to have left the facility without permission if an adult supervisor calls 911 within 30 minutes of the minor’s departure; otherwise, the resident will be deemed to have left with permission.
- No more than six cars can park at the facility. An additional circular driveway must be added within 90 days of the facility housing eight or more minors.
- The group home must comply with all applicable state licensing requirements, rules, and regulations. The facility must obtain a new certificate of occupancy demonstrating compliance with building code, fire code, sanitation/health code, and establishing maximum occupancy limits.
Goldstein credited Lincoln for helping to improve the conditions for approval.
Goldstein said that Lincoln’s input resulted in greater protections not only for Lincoln’s client, but for the neighborhood, as well.
McDonald said his preference would have been no conditions at all, but said his client wants to be part of the solution.
McDonald also credited Goldstein “herculean” efforts to protect the county’s interests.
By reaching an agreement, the county was able to avoid the potential for liability stemming from inaccurate information provided by a county staff member to Youth Elevated Services.
Before purchasing the house, the company had reached out announcing its intended use of the property and seeking a zoning verification letter.
Elevated Youth Services then received word from the county that a residential group home is a permitted use in the zoning category.
The company subsequently purchased the home.
As it turns out, a residential group home is limited to six residents, as a permitted use.
In approving the waiver for the conditional use, planning board members said they were much more comfortable with the request, given the conditions for approval.
They were particularly pleased by the creation of the advisory board, which will give the neighborhood a chance to monitor the operation and will involve a representative from the Human Trafficking Commission.
Published March 09, 2022
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