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Hereford Holds First Round of Hearings for Habitats of Hope
Written by Candace Perry, Correspondent

Attorney says limit of five residents in transitional housing violates federal law


            A large crowd gathered at the Hereford Township municipal garage for the zoning hearing for Habitats for Hope transitional housing on Monday, October 19.

            Elizabeth Magovern, attorney for the board, led the proceedings for the evening, with socially distanced and masked audience members seated in their own lawn and camp chairs, or standing, in the open garage.

            McGovern stated that the hearing was for a variance application to permit the removal of the regulation in the ordinance that permits only five unrelated persons living in transitional housing in the township.  The applicant, Habitats of Hope, LLC is asking for 16 residents, and has said that the township ordinance violates the Fair Housing Act and is discriminatory.

            In attendance were attorneys representing the township, Habitats for Hope, and several of the neighbors. Neighbors also requested to be added to the record to question the witness later in the hearing.

            The building that the company is seeking to purchase is the former Landhaven Bed & Breakfast on Huffs Church Road, owned by Edgar and Donna Land. The B&B accommodated 10 guests in five rooms, plus the owners' living quarters.

            Attorney Allen Shollenberger of the firm Leisawitz Heller of Wyomissing representing Habitats of Hope, a for-profit described the housing as transitional on a short-term basis, with a minimum stay of 90 days. He noted that the residents would have been through addiction treatment, and that the transitional housing was "not in lieu of incarceration." The residents would not be permitted to use drugs or alcohol.

            Shollenberger said that his client is requesting a variance regarding the definition of transitional housing in the ordinance, and that the limit of only five residents violates federal law, saying it has "no rational basis or justification for discrimination" and that the residents would be considered disabled under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

            Shollenberger called his witness, Samuel Albert, the executive director of Habitats of Hope. Albert stated that his company is currently under agreement to purchase the building from the current owners. He stated that the residents would be only female, and that the facility would not function as a group home, according to the definition of a group home, but would "operate as a large family." When asked if there was any difference between the operations of the Habitats of Hope facility and a B&B or a large family, he replied "No."

            Albert also stated that the facility would not be economically feasible with only five residents, who would be paying $2,000 per month, and that 16 was the number that would be the minimum.

            Township attorney Eugene Orlando noted that there was no licensing for this type of facility. He also asked if Albert knew that the Hereford and Washington Townships had a joint municipal agreement, to which he answered that he did not.

            The remaining attorneys, Mark Koch  and Amanda O'Driscoll, and several neighbors asked Albert numerous questions regarding wide ranging topics from the ownership of Habitats of Hope, and use and distribution of residents' medications, to the septic system on the property, background checks, family visits, and first responders in the event of an emergency, among many others. During the redirect at the end of the meeting, Shollenberger asked Albert if he would agree to a condition to the application to comply with township regulations regarding the septic system and to having background checks for the residents. Albert said yes.

            Zoning Hearing Board chairman Richard Rachor stated that his board's concern was for the "affect on the quality and safety of the neighborhood," and Albert replied that the facility wouldn't alter that.

            Zoning board member Tim Haas asked if the facility could be economically feasible with less than 16 residents. Albert said he did not know.

            Rachor said that issue was "an essential part of granting of the variance," and that it "doesn't seem to me that you've done your homework."

            He added "I'm not convinced that you've developed your business model and how it relates to the community."

            The continuance of the hearing will be held on Monday, November 16, at 6 p.m. at the garage. Attendees are encouraged to dress warmly and bring their own chairs.





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