laws may keep group home for teens out of Wellsville
By Liz Lawyer
May 2, 2006 | WELLSVILLE -- A small,
one-story house on 200 West in Wellsville has a real
estate agent's sign out front, advertising it's up for
sale. This sign has been up for several months, and
it hasn't gone unnoticed.
The owners were approached by Logan River Academy,
a home for troubled teenagers in Logan, to purchase
the home to make it an extension of the school, but
were unable to close on the deal because there was no
law in Wellsville regulating group homes. Gerald Byington,
who lives on the same street as the proposed group home,
said federal law requires cities to have a special ordinance
for cases like this. Since Wellsville had none at the
time, the LRA requested that they put one in place,
said Jeff Smith, director of operations at the academy.
"The city said they would have the ordinance in place
by end of April, but they don't seem to be on track
for that," Smith said in a phone interview. "Now it
seems unrealistic to hope for it to be done this month."
Bruce Jorgensen, Wellsville city attorney, presented
a proposed ordinance to the Planning and Zoning Commission
Wednesday night, said Mayor Ruth Maughan.
Byington, who circulated a petition to prevent the
academy from expanding to Wellsville and presented it
to the mayor last week, said the ordinance looked good
to him, though it needed a couple changes. He said the
ordinance would limit group homes to six residents and
would prevent them from being located in residential
"[The ordinance] has been really researched and they
have done a really good job," Byington said in a phone
Byington said his concern was mostly because the neighbors
would have no way of knowing the history of the teens
living in the house. Because they're juveniles, their
records are not public information.
The problem isn't just the potential safety hazard,
Byington said. He fears the group home will change the
character of the neighborhood.
"Would you want one of those near you?" he said.
A housing development is going up only a few hundred
yards down the road from the proposed group home. There
are also fields across the road from the house that
Byington said will eventually become homes. Having a
place like Logan River Academy in the neighborhood could
affect the price of homes in the neighborhood, he said.
Byington cited several examples of teens attacking,
even raping and killing, counselors and supervisors
at other behavioral treatment facilities in Utah. In
February, a 17-year-old male student at LRA attacked
a male teacher who had asked him why he was not in class.
Byington said he had heard of problems with drug use
within the school as well.
In any case, Byington said his worries are a "moot
point." When the school found out there was no ordinance,
they backed off the deal. Currently the house is not
under contract. He said it was a "wild guess" that they
would try again after the ordinance is in place, but
as of now, there is no offer on the house.
Interestingly, Byington said the owners were told
the people interested in the house were a private couple,
and it wasn't until later they found out it was LRA.
"That seems to be subterfuge," he said. "Why don't
they come out in the open and say [what their intentions
Byington said he wishes the school would just send
someone out to talk to Wellsville residents. He said
he thinks communication would help the situation.
Smith agrees. He said probably 99 percent of the problem
was that people didn't understand the kind of students
his school works with. He said the house would be a
place for boys to go when they get close to finishing
their work at the academy, a way of transitioning back
to normal life in a less institutional setting. He said
the school has about 90 kids and the house would hopefully
hold about 12, though this may be limited by the ordinance.
Smith said he was surprised at the level of opposition
the proposal has received in the community. He said
he doesn't know if it will work out the way LRA had
hoped, but he will have to wait until the ordinance
is in place to find out for sure. If the ordinance proposed
in the Planning and Zoning meeting goes through, the
home will not be allowed in that neighborhood because
Mayor Maughan said in a phone interview she was puzzled
about the school's choice of location. "It is a strange
thing," she said.
Smith said the school liked the location because it
was in an isolated rural area with lots of acreage and
could provide a different kind of environment for the
students to readjust to life outside the school. He
said they would still be supervised and would attend
classes at LRA. The idea of a home like this is not
novel, he said. Other schools like LRA have places just