Planning commissioners OK Foothills group home

Less than a week after the Valley Christian Fellowship rehearing and a debate over what projects are suitable for residential areas, Douglas County planning commissioners had to decide if a group home for teens with eating disorders was a suitable project for an upscale Foothills neighborhood.

On Tuesday, planning commissioners voted unanimously to deny an appeal by neighbors and uphold Community Development Director Mimi Moss' approval of the group home, which would be located in an existing 3,900-square-foot residence at 252 Applecreek Lane.

"It meets the definition of a small group home, and it seems to be a well-thought-out project," said planning commissioner Rick Ross.

Planning commissioner Jim Madsen was absent for the vote, and planning commissioner JoEtta Brown abstained because she lives in the vicinity of the project and said her husband had written a letter of opposition.

On Nov. 13, Joseph Radzvilowicz submitted an application for a minor design review for his proposed group home, called Nouveau Vie, which would provide 24-hour care for up to 10 children between the ages of 13 and 18 who suffer from eating disorders, such as bulimia and anorexia.

On Dec. 19, county staff issued conditioned approval of the project. Minor design reviews are typically handled within the community development department and only go to public hearings when the director's decision has been appealed.

In her staff report, county planner Lucille Rao recommended planning commissioners affirm the director's decision. She wrote that the project fits within the definition of a group home, as defined by county code, and is allowed in single-family residential zoning.

"The use is typically located in residential districts," Rao said. "There are no adverse impacts anticipated to result from this development related to traffic, noise, odor, or visual nuisances. The intended use is similar to that of a large family."

But more than 50 neighbors disagreed.

In his appeal justification statement, Old Foothill Road resident Philip Wright argued that the project was not a group home, but rather a medical facility.

"We all came to this area to enjoy rural residential life, not for a group care facility next door which by any reasonable definition is a medical clinic," he said. "The applicant is requesting resumes for psychologists, therapists, nursing assistants and physicians and a chef for cooking instruction. This would appear to be a staff for a full-blown medical clinic, not a group home or foster home which typically has foster parent/guardians only."

At the hearing, Wright said he had nothing against Radzvilowicz or his group home.

"Personally, I have absolutely no problem with Joe or Joe's family, and I respect him, but this is not the correct thing to do in this house in this location," Wright said.

Radzvilowicz said the group home is not a medical facility. He said he would hire a doctor on retainer for the intake process to ensure every child was fit for the residential program and not in need of greater medical care.

He said the program would focus on caloric intake, weight management and physical activities. He said a psychologist would be hired part-time to help the teenagers through their issues. Nurses would monitor the kids, but would provide no skilled care greater than what parents could provide.

He pointed out that schools have nurses, but are not considered medical facilities.

"This is not a development," Radzvilowicz said. "It does not open the doors for 7-Eleven and other commercial zoning. The area will remain rural, and there will be no difference in the surrounding area and no negative impacts on property values."

But neighbor and real estate agent Jeanne Zemarel said the group home would raise issues of disclosure. She said if prospective buyers asked about it, it would have to be disclosed.

"It is an issue and can affect property values," she said.

However, Realtor Mary Cioffi, who had found Radzvilowicz the house, said she went to the Nevada Association of Realtors and was told that disclosing the group home would be like disclosing that a minority lived next door.

"People ask me if I would put them in my neighborhood," Cioffi said. "I would put them in my neighborhood."

Old Foothill Road resident Scott Sulprizio argued that the property was zoned single-family residential and that neighbors expected it to be used for single-family residential.

"[They] are ignoring the wishes of the community," he said.

Neighbors also expressed concerns about fire safety and water contamination. Wright said the house's septic system is crammed between two streams, including historic Mott Creek, that are used for irrigation purposes downstream. He questioned whether or not the septic system would be able to handle up to 10 teenagers.

However, planning commissioner Lawrence Howell said fire and septic issues were outside the purview of the planning commission, that neighbors should take their concerns to the state.

"Your license dictates what you are," Howell told Radzvilowicz. "If you're not compliant with septic and fire standards, you'll be shut down."

Kathleen Miller, executive director of Austin's House, a group home for children in Sunridge, said there were similarities between the two projects.

"We had a fair amount of neighbor opposition," Miller said. "But we really have not had any complaints since the children began residing with us."

Miller said surrounding residents were scared that the kids might bring behavioral issues into the neighborhood.

"But we are a staff-secure facility," she said. "They can't leave without staff."

Radzvilowicz said Nouveau Vie would operate the same way, with constant supervision.


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