Kennett Sq. gets group home code in compliance with feds

Codes Department Chief predicts up to $30 million in new development within 5 years

By Rick Marts, Correspondent, The Times


Joe Scalise, acting Kennett Square Borough manager; Leon Spenser, Council president; and Matthew Fetick, Borough Mayor, discuss enacting amendments to the Borough’s zoning ordinance regarding group homes, Monday night.

KENNETT— At its Monday night public meeting, Kennett Square Borough Council amended several provisions of the Borough’s zoning ordinance dealing with group homes for mentally and physically challenged individuals. The purpose of these changes was to make the laws comply with federal legislation governing group homes.

Ensuring that these ordinances comply with federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, has significant funding impact for the Borough. Julie Spreckleson, the Borough’s solicitor, said, “Without compliance, the Borough is not eligible to receive future Community Development Block Grant funding. The federal government sends this funding to Chester County, and from there the County awards it to its local municipalities as grants.”

Spreckleson also said, “The final version of these amendments is before us and these changes have been approved by the Chester County solicitor. The amendments the Council is considering tonight make definitions of such terms as “family” and “group homes” in our code more consistent with each other. With adoption, other significant changes will also be made, such as reducing the maximum number of residents in a group home from 15 to 4.”

Not everyone at the hearing, however, believed that the Borough could effectively enforce its legislation governing group homes.

During public comments, Borough resident John Thomas noted that, “even though the solicitor might assure us that this ordinance can be enforced, it can’t. Council has to be very careful that group homes aren’t allowed to house socially undesirable and possibly dangerous people such as ex-convicts and persons suffering from drug addiction.”

Thomas was also concerned about the public notice given to Borough citizens about this hearing and their ability to attend it, and he questioned the Council’s actions. He said, “A small-print notice put in the Kennett Paper is not sufficient notice for most people.”

Ms. Spreckleson responded that the Council did everything required by law to advertise the hearing and took the steps it always does in advance of a public hearing to obtain comments on proposed legislation or amendments to legislation.

Thomas further expressed his concern that the concept of group homes discriminates against the neighbors of that home because they do not have access to descriptive information about the home’s residents, such as what mental or physical disabilities they have. Some Council members, however, expressed their view that divulging this information to the public might, in itself, be discriminatory against a group home’s residents.

Whether discrimination of any kind exists seemed to be a moot point after the Borough’s Codes Enforcement Officer, Rusty Drumheller, told the hearing that only two group homes, with four residents each, are now registered in the Borough. Further, Chief of Police Zunino said, “A person wouldn’t even know those homes are there.”

Council unanimously passed a motion to enact the amendments to the Municipal Code, Chapter 23, Zoning, Group Homes.

During the reports period of the meeting, Drumheller reported on the activity of his Codes Enforcement office. In addition to citing the office’s activity inspecting properties and processing applications and permits for new construction and building modifications, he noted an abundance of new development activity he senses in the future.

Drumheller said that based on applications and inquiries from developers, he expected “$20 million to $30 million of new development to come through Kennett Borough in the next 5 years.” While this caused few overt comments, it did raise eyebrows among Council members and those in the audience.

In her report on Historic Kennett Square activities, Mary Hutchens listed the following anticipated events for November and the holidays through the end of 2014:

– Friday, November 7, First Friday Art Stroll, 6 to 9 p.m.

– Friday, November 28, Holiday Light Parade, 6:15 p.m.

– Saturday, November 29, Small Business Saturday

– Every first and third Friday, Kennett Square Winter Farmers Market, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., December through April

– Thursday, December 4, Ladies Shopping Night

– Friday, December 5, First Friday Art Stroll, 6 to 9 p.m.

– Saturday, December 6, Hometown Christmas Show, 8 p.m. at the Flash

– Saturday, December 6, Pop Goes the Holidays, the Kennett Symphony annual Holiday Concert featuring the Kennett Symphony Children’s Chorus and all of your holiday favorites

– Every Sunday in December from 12 noon to 3 p.m., Carriage Rides through town

– Thursday, December 11, Men’s Shopping Night

– Saturday, December 13 and 20, Free Holiday Movies at the Flash

– Sunday, December 14, Candlelight Holiday Home Tour, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

– Wednesday, December 31, Midnight in the Square (Mushroom Drop) 9 p.m. – 1 a.m., Family-friendly fun, food, and music, admission fee: non-perishable food item for Kennett Food Cupboard, (

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One Comment

  1. Dan L says:

    Having worked on zoning for group homes for 40 years, first as a city planner and then as an attorney, I can categorically state that the Kennett Square Borough Council’s actions violate the nation’s Fair Housing Act by limiting the number of residents in a group home to four; individuals with disabilities. This is a rather blatant violation that will cost the borough hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and fines. This restriction is discriminatory on its face, in part, because biological families are not limited to four residents in a dwelling. In a 1995 decision, the US Supreme Court made it very clear that building and property code provisions that apply to all residences can restrict the number of residents, but that a zoning code cannot impose this kind of restriction on the number of residents with disabilities in a group home. The legal principles involved are far to lengthy to post here, but the Borough Council has placed the Borough in a very indefensible legal position that also fails to meet fundamental sound planning and zoning principles as espoused by the American Planning Association and the American Bar Association.

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