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Upper Hanover Zoning Board Denies Application for Rehab Home
Written by Candace Perry, Correspondent

            Despite an expert witness for the township and an eloquent argument by the applicant's attorney, it was a technicality that led to the failure of an application for a proposed rehab facility on Geryville Pike.

            The Upper Hanover Zoning Hearing Board heard arguments from attorney Mike Murray, representing the township, and attorney James Maza, representing Firely Enterprises of Harleysville, the applicant, at the hearing for a special exception to the zoning ordinance for a group home at 2573 Geryville Pike on Wednesday, January 31.

            The proposed facility would be an opioid rehab, for female clients only. Approximately eight to ten individuals would live in the two-bedroom house on the property with approximately five staff members per shift. Other buildings on the property would be used for detox, therapy, and educational activities.

            Attorney Murray introduced expert witness Brian Seidel, of Seidel Planning and Design in Pottstown, who reviewed the application, and reviewed the township's zoning ordinance and zoning map. He also reviewed the transcripts from the previous hearing on January 17 and visited the site of the proposed rehab.

            Seidel noted that the application called the opioid rehab a "supervised residence." He said that a group home would be permitted by special exception, but added "I don't believe it fits the clear definition of a group home." 

            Seidel stated he instead thought the facility was an institutional use, in light of the medical personnel that would be onsite.  It would be "more of a medical or health facility, than a group home," he said, and that such a use was permitted in other township zoning districts.

            It was also noted that a traffic study would need to accompany the application, and it was absent.

            James Maza, representing Firely enterprises, reading from the ordinance, stated that his client would be "entitled to a special exception unless it affects public health, safety, and welfare of the township," and asked Seidel his opinions on how the community would be negatively impacted.

            Seidel noted "the component of density" and "a septic facility that is failing"; the "transient nature of residents" and "residents escaping"; and the possibility that visitors to the facility, medical personnel and calls to 911 could affect the welfare of the community.

            Neighbor Daniel Ciamiachela of Finland Road stressed what he perceived as the danger of having a rehab in the community, stating that "I'm going to do whatever I need to do keep me and my neighbors safe, even if someone's coming out in a black bag with a zipper."

As a former corrections officer, Ciamiachela said, "I've been there, I've seen it, I've been through it. Drugs are in the community but I don't want to invite them in."

            Another neighbor, Carl King, inquired about the possibility of clients having "dual diagnosis" meaning addiction plus other issues, and also stated that "detox is a messy business," and that it could be loud and violent.

            The program director for the proposed facility, Brian Allen, said that safety would be addressed through an intake process that would include discovery of dual diagnosis. Allen said that he formerly had been director of two group homes, though had no experience with opioid addiction and detox.

            J. Martin Firely of Firely Enterprises stated that the facility would be no different from residence with a disabled elderly adult or child receiving home nursing, care, therapy, or education.

            Attorney Maza said, "The ordinance is clear that this a special exception," and added that since the opioid crisis had been declared a public emergency all had to do their part.

            "The applicant's own word describe this as a rehabilitation facility," said attorney Murray, and concluded that the facility had two principal uses - residence and rehabilitation - and that that two principal uses were forbidden under the ordinance.

            The zoning hearing board adjourned and upon return, voted unanimously to deny the application. The board's solicitor, Gregory Ghen, stated that the application was turned down because a traffic impact study was not submitted with the application.

            "That failure results in denial," Ghen said.





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