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New Kensington residents don't want group home as neighbor

| Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

City residents on Tuesday asked council to intervene on rumored plans to develop a vacant lot along Edgewood Road into a group home.

Residents said they believe the owner of the property, Anthony Moret, intends to sell the land to another agency with plans to build a facility for mentally and physically disabled people.

Noting problems the city has had in the past with similar facilities, residents said they disapprove of such a facility operating in a residential neighborhood.

"This is not the place to put another group home," said Junnie Mendelowski, an Edgewood Road resident as well as a real estate agent.

Moret did not attend Tuesday's council meeting. A woman who answered the phone at his Oakmont home late Tuesday said he was sleeping and unavailable for comment.

Councilman Tom Guzzo said he spoke with Moret on Tuesday afternoon and learned Moret is in the "infancy stages" of exploring sales options for the property.

The exact size or address of the vacant lot was unavailable yesterday. Residents believed it was part of, or neighbors, property formerly owned by Alcoa that Moret Construction bought in 2003.

Guzzo said he was told a sale is not definite but an interested buyer is considering the land for a group home.

Guzzo said the facility would be for disabled people, not "mentally disturbed" people who could pose a risk to the community.

Contrary to rumors, it would not operate as a halfway house for recovering drug addicts or criminals, officials said.

Guzzo said Moret spoke with the city's code enforcement office to see what type of building could physically fit on the land and still meet city codes.

City officials said they would pass residents' concerns to Moret, but warned there likely is little the city can to do prevent the establishment of a group home.

Councilman John Regoli said the city has battled group homes in the past and lost. In most cases, the facilities are permitted uses in residential areas as long as they meet other requirements such as maximum number of occupants.

Although he believes the group homes should be treated as businesses, Regoli said the city must recognize the rights of disabled people to have accessible and fair housing.

"It's a touchy situation," he said. "I don't think anyone in this crowd wants to come across as callous."

Regoli said city officials can't stop a sale and would only be involved once building permits or zoning variances are requested.

If the sale goes through and a building is planned, Regoli advised residents to attend any planning or zoning meetings at which they could address specific concerns.

Residents also asked council to arrange a meeting with Moret so he could explain the situation.

Sharon Resek, an Edgewood Road resident who works with the Greater Allegheny-Kiski Area Board of Realtors as well as New Kensington's Weed and Seed program, said she believes a sales agreement is nearing completion and would not take long to finalize because no buildings are involved.

She asked council to review city ordinances to make sure they limit the placement of group homes as much as possible. Resek said she believed Murrysville has a more restrictive ordinance that New Kensington could copy.

City Solicitor James Kopelman said he would review any samples Resek provided, but noted no municipality can outright block group homes.

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