Baldwin looks to set rules for group homes
Baldwin leaders are outlining rules for group homes in the borough in response to a fatal shooting at one on Angelo Drive last year.
Borough council members approved a first reading in June that would amend the borough's zoning ordinance to outline requirements for the facilities, including how close they can be to each other and requiring registration with the borough and proof of licenses and background checks of all employes.
Council members are scheduled to adopt the ordinance amendments in July.
“There were feelings of obligation on council to make sure we're doing what we can,” borough Manager John Barrett said.
Police have said that on Dec. 17, two coworkers of the Community Options group home on Angelo Drive got into an argument outside the home. Police have said James King walked to his vehicle, put on a pair of latex gloves, grabbed a handgun and fired multiple times at his coworker.
King was charged with homicide, reckless endangerment, tampering with evidence and a firearms violation.
“This group home ordinance is designed to prevent any recurrence of the problem that we had with the group home on Angelo Drive,” Councilman Michael Stelmasczyk said. “The goal is to keep our neighborhoods safe.”
Baldwin previously did not have a definition for “group homes” in its ordinance, Barrett said. Borough leaders had to go through tax records to determine where they were located.
They determined there are about 25 group homes that are “fairly scattered” throughout residential neighborhoods in the borough, Barrett said.
There are nonprofit groups running the homes that serve as rehab facilities for those suffering from addiction or homes for people with special needs, Barrett said.
Borough leaders looked to ordinances from other areas and combined approaches others have taken to fit Baldwin's needs, Barrett said.
A group home in Baldwin will be defined as “a residential facility used as living quarters by no more than four unrelated persons, each of whom is handicapped within the meaning of the Fair Housing Act.”
The proposed ordinance amendment would require group homes, once they register with the borough, to undergo annual code inspections.
“It's a general safety inspection, making sure they have smoke alarms, things like that,” Barrett said.
Borough leaders also plan to require group homes to provide their own solid waste collection, Barrett said. In the past, the borough was collecting solid waste for the homes along with their neighbors.
Barrett noted the homes are run by nonprofits that are not paying taxes. Often, he said, the caretakers likely do not even live in the borough, so Baldwin likely is getting no form of tax dollars from the homes.
There are state requirements in place to ensure employees secure licenses and undergo background checks.
Barrett said the borough sought the help of state Rep. Harry Readshaw and state Rep. Bill Kortz to outline who requires those, so the borough now can seek verification that each employee meets the requirements to work at a group home.
Borough council members also are looking at restricting how close group homes can be to each other. Council members in the first reading set it at250 feet, although Barrett said that was still being finalized.
The goal of this is not to allow the group homes to change the character of a neighborhood.
“As you drive by, you'd think they were just any other home in a neighborhood,” Barrett said. “Usually, there's just small groups of people living in them.”
Borough leaders plan to talk with the owners of all current group homes once the ordinance amendment is passed to outline the new rules, Barrett said. “There will be an education process,” he said.