The Montgomery County Council approved Tuesday an amendment to the county zoning ordinance and a legislative bill designed to allow the establishment of additional group homes in the county.
Council Vice President Elizabeth L. Scull, principal sponsor of the legislation, said the actions were necessary because of the need for group homes that serve children, as an alternative to troubled home situations; the elderly, as an alternative to institutionalization and the developmentally disabled who are self-supporting but in need of a supportive residential situations.
Scull said the legislation marks the first time group homes had been provided for in the zoning ordinance. Because of that, she said, persons attempting to establish such homes found it a "long, complicated and expensive porcess" requiring an appeal to the county zoning board of appeals. Only homes for children and the developmentally disabled had been exempted from the appeals process. There are now about 20 group homes in the county, most of which are for children and the developmentally disabled.
Scull said the homes were clustered in certain areas, especially in Rockville, Takoma Park and other older municipalities. In one area, there are three group homes in one block, she said. The clustering caused residents to fear their neighborhoods would lose their residential character.
Under the new legislation, the approval process would not take longer than 100 days. It also provides for a 1,000-foot distance between group homes for children and the developmentally disabled and the other group homes.
The legislation mandates that 50 per cent of juvenile occupants of group homes for youths be residents of Montgomery County. Scull said the requirement was made because developers from the District and Prince George's County are establishing group homes in Montgomery County. They find it easier to establish such homes in Montgomery County than in their own areas, she said. A motion by council member Dickran Hovsepian to raise the figure to 75 per cent failed. He said he proposed the amendment to insure that other counties move ahead in apporving procedures for establishing group homes.
To improve the maintenance and supervision of group homes the legislation would establish a review board consisting of representatives of community organizations, government agencies and individuals.
The vote for the measures was 6-0. Council members Norman Christeller' and Neal Potter were absent. Scull said, "The changes approved by the council will expedite the approval of responsible guoup home applications and build into the process safeguards to reassure neighborhoods."
In other action, the council approved legislation tha would allow taxi cabs to charge rates lower than the metered fare if a contract had been filed in advance with the Department of Transportation. The legislation would apply to contracts with the government or with private groups.
On the humorous side, the council approved a resolution making today the first day of Spring. Council President John Menke made the proposal after noting this is the coldest winter in 70 years. Councilmember Hovsepian however, said he opposed the measure because it "is defying natural order."