Wheaton City Council members on Monday approved new wording for the city's definition of "Group Care Home" to allow a STARS Family Services to build its proposed group home at the corner of Cross Street and Union Avenue in Wheaton.
The city in November approved the organization's plan to build a 15-resident group care home for developmentally disabled adults. STARS proposed, and now plans, to build two buildings that would share a yard and driveway, but to do so, the city needed to make changes to its zoning ordinance.
STARS attorney David Bay addressed the amendment during public comment Monday. He said the amendment would allow for no more than two residential dwellings occupied by special needs individuals on the same zoning lot, being operated as a single housekeeping unit, under the control and management of a single not-for-profit organization.
The amendment was a "group effort" among STARS and city staff, as city staff recommended the organization divide one larger home into two units to lessen the impact of the project, Bay said.
“This, I think was a very forward-looking plan on the part of the city… to integrate the project in the neighborhood.”
While most of the meeting's attendees stood in support of the STARS plan, neighbors of the project have spoken against it since it was first introduced to the city in June.
Resident Darcy Williams said she was against the zoning amendment because it would seem "strange," or "procedurally incorrect," to approve an application to build two dwellings on a single lot, "knowing STARS cannot operate it as intended."
She added, "I believe the Wheaton zoning ordinance is already extremely broad... Granting it (to accommodate STARS) would make it even broader."
Kathy Langlois said the STARS debate has been "very emotional" for many neighbors.
"If you vote in favor (of the amendment), it applies to all group homes in Wheaton... We're fearful of the precedent it would set. No one was ever resisted welcoming STARS clients into our neighborhood... (But we) urge you to consider (homes for others, such as troubled teens or ex-convicts)," she said.
Kerry Mansour said STARS had applied for something that wouldn't have been approved according to the existing city code.
"This is the sort of issue we need to look at as a whole and look carefully, and lay out an ordinance that doesn't have conflicting parts," she said.
Phil Passon, development consultant to STARS, said there has been very careful consideration given to the project.
The zoning amendment, he said, "diminishes the impact in neighborhoods and allows control by (city) council in special use permit processes."
While the amendment passed with unanimous vote by City Council, interim At-Large Councilman Thor Saline said he would like to see the project look more like two homes with two driveways, in case STARS someday sells the property. He said he would also like to see the home look as "uniform" to the neighborhood as possible.
STARS provides small supportive living arrangements and related services to developmentally disabled adults of the STARS Disability Ministry of College Church in Wheaton.
Since opening its first house in north Wheaton last June, the organization has received applications from more than 20 adults who live with their aging parents, who, “are finding it increasingly difficult to care for their adult children,” according to a city staff memo.
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