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10/19/21 Conditional Use Hearing 730-32 McKnight


Virtual Public Hearing
Conditional Use Application
730-32 McKnight St
Conversion to a Group Home
Tuesday, October 19, 2020
5:00 p.m.


Ms. Sihelnik, Vice President of Council, called the public hearing to order and stated that the applicant is seeking Conditional Use approval for a group home at 730-32 McKnight St, located in an R3 area which allows group homes as a Conditional Use, under certain criteria and limitations defined in the Zoning Ordinance.

Due to COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, the City was forced to change their meeting format to prohibit the public’s ability to physically attend the meeting and for public comment to be provided via email, telephone, or in person in the Penn Room or in writing.

Attending: City Councilor Marmarou and City Clerk Kelleher (physically) City Councilors Goodman-Hinnershitz, Reed, Sihelnik, Waltman, Ventura, Cepeda-Freytiz, Solicitor Lachat, Zoning Administrator Peris, Deputy City Clerk Smith, applicant A. McHenry, Atty. M. Koch and architect J. Stewart (virtually)

All parties were provided with an electronic copy of the agenda prior to the start of the hearing. The agenda includes the meeting ad, the Planning Commission resolution, the application, exhibits provided by the applicant and the Zoning staff report, which includes the Zoning Hearing Board Decision.

  1. Testimony from Applicant

    A. McHenry (applicant)

    Attorney Koch, the applicant’s attorney, led Ms. McHenry through a series of questions resulting in the testimony below. In addition to Ms. McHenry, Mr. Stewart, architect and board member, is also providing testimony about the structure.

    Attorney Koch described the applicant’s journey through the land use process starting with the Planning Commission in July resulting in a recommendation for the project’s approval. The applicant was also required to obtain Zoning Hearing Board approval of some variances which allowed the project to move into the Conditional Use hearing process. Zoning Board approval was obtained on October 13, 2021.

    Ms. McHenry stated that she has been associated with Freedom and Restoration for Everyone

    Enslaved (FREE) as its Executive Director for 10 years. This non-profit serves survivors of domestic sex trafficking and sexual exploitation. She stated that four (4) years ago a drop-in center, a resting place, opened at 5 North 5th Street where various support services are provided to those rescued. In 2018 a coalition for human trafficking victims began. In 2019 a partnership started with Samaritan Women Institute, experts in the field, which expanded training and other opportunities for FREE. The next desired step is a group home for survivors where additional services can be provided. Samaritan selected FREE as one of its four (4) mentor programs enabling FREE to open a group home for survivors.

    Ms. McHenry expressed the belief that there is a need for this type of shelter in Reading as it is in a great location and is in close proximity to the services required by those utilizing FREE. She explained that choosing a rural location would disconnect survivors from the services they need such as the library, churches, recovery and AA meetings and participation in community service initiatives.

    Ms. McHenry expressed the belief that this project meets the City’s criteria for group homes.

    Ms. McHenry stated that the shelter will be serving women in the 18-28 year range. The women will be receiving therapeutic services, physical services, education, job-life skills, self-care skills, etc. and the women will be expected to follow a full range of safety and behavioral regulations. This will be a 24-7 operation with full coverage from staff and volunteers at all times. Only staff members are permitted to have vehicles at the property. She explained that there will be a vetting process used and those accepted into the program will not have felonies, criminal backgrounds or have drug or alcohol addictions, etc. The primary goal is safety for those in the property and safety for the neighborhood. Interior and exterior video surveillance will be provided.

    Mr. Koch clarified that staffing will be provided by one employee and one volunteer around the clock.

    Ms. McHenry stated that 730-32 McKnight Street is the perfect location as many years ago the two (2) properties were merged into one (1) home, allowing FREE to serve up to a maximum of six (6) survivors . She stated that she has agreed to comply with the conditions approved by the Zoning Board for off-street parking, etc. There will be no exterior signage and this property will appear no differently from other homes in the block. There will be no negative impact or increased congestion and no threat to anyone’s safety. She expressed the belief that this use is an incredible fit to this site.

    • Council’s Cross Examination

    Councilor Sihelnik noted her familiarity with the services and work performed by Ms.

    McHenry and her organization.

    Councilor Reed asked Mr. Stewart how these properties were combined without negatively impacting the structural integrity of the building and she inquired if the properties were merged into one deed.

    Mr. Stewart stated that he is unsure about past projects and he is only aware about the current needs for the property. He stated that he is satisfied with the safety of the structure as full walls were not removed. The two (2) properties were joined via portals.

    Mr. Koch noted FREEs willingness to comply with all building/trades requirements and inspections for building improvements, noting that a sprinkler system is being added. He stated that a copy of the deed merging the properties, using one perimeter description, is included with the exhibits.

    In response to questions from Councilor Marmarou,

    Mr. Koch and Ms. McHenry stated that there would be no more than six (6) women receiving services at the property at a time and two (2) staff members 24-7. Ms. McHenry and Mr. Koch stated that the program is mainly focused on local women but referrals from outside Reading will be accepted as well.

    In response to a question from Councilor Reed, Ms. McHenry stated that the existing garage behind the property will be demolished so three (3) off-street parking spaces can be installed.

    At this point in time, Mr. Lachat entered the agenda packet into the record as Exhibit 1 with the meeting ad, the Planning Commission resolution, the application, exhibits provided by the applicant and the Zoning staff report attached.

    Councilor Cepeda-Freytiz inquired about client turnover and the length of stay at the property. Ms. McHenry stated that clients can choose a stabilization stay of 90 days and up to 18 months

  2. Testimony from City Staff

    Mr. Peris, Zoning Administrator, stated that this applicant has been going through the land use process beginning with the Planning Commission July and recently receiving variances from applicable dimensional and parking requirements, and from the minimum distance a group home may be permitted from a daycare use (ZHB Appeal #2021-15). He noted that while the zoning ordinance would require four (4) off-street parking spaces, the Zoning Board approved the variance to require only three (3).

    Mr. Peris noted that while the two (2) properties were emerged into one in 2010, the two (2) parcels have not been enjoined. The applicant will need to return to the Planning

    Commission about the annexation if the Conditional Use permit is approved.

    Mr. Peris referenced following conditions attached by the Zoning Board and agreed to by the applicant which are listed on the Zoning decision included with the Zoning Staff Report. In summary:

    1. Applicant shall provide a minimum of three (3) off-street parking spaces on site.
    2. Applicant shall install security cameras and a security system at the Subject Property.
    3. Applicant shall combine the Subject Properties onto one deed.
    4. The building façade shall be updated to present a consistent appearance across both properties and shall be maintained in accordance with City property maintenance standards.
    5. A Preliminary/Final Annexation and Land Development Plan shall be submitted for approval and recorded in accordance with the provisions required by the Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance.
    6. The Annexation and Land Development Plan shall address the following to the satisfaction of the Planning Commission: neighborhood revitalization, architectural enhancement, vehicular and pedestrian site accessibility, curbs and sidewalks, driveway, off-street parking, storm water management, sanitary sewage disposal, water supply, utilities, landscaping and street trees, solid waste disposal, and other supplemental requirements.
    7. The appropriate building, trades, fire and zoning permits shall be prepared and submitted to address all building code requirements for work associated with the proposed change in use and submit to all inspections deemed necessary.
    8. The building shall comply with all fire, safety and accessibility requirements specified by the City of Reading prior to occupancy.
    9. Applicant shall provide all licenses that are required for the ownership and operation of the facility as required by law.
    10. Applicant shall apply for all required building, trades and fire permits m. Applicant shall apply for housing permits and submit to the required property maintenance inspections.
    11. Applicant may not use, expand, alter or otherwise use the Subject Property inconsistently with the contents of this Decision without making application requesting further relief from the Zoning Board.
    12. Failure to comply with any of these above-referenced conditions shall mean the immediate revocation of the relief granted herein.

    Mr. Peris asked Council to consider requiring the same conditions if the group home permit is approved.

  3. Public Comment (No More than 3 minutes per speaker)

    Councilor Sihelnik opened the floor for public comment. No one requested the opportunity to speak. There were no citizens present or connected.

  4. Other Testimony and Evidence


  5. Rebuttal by Applicant


  6. Announcement of expected date of decision

    Councilor Sihelnik announced that City Council will render a decision by adopting a resolution at the November 8th Regular Meeting of Council. She thanked everyone for participating.

    Councilor Reed, moved, seconded by Councilor Goodman-Hinnershitz, to adjourn the hearing.