The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week approved a zoning exemption that will allow the county Juvenile Court to establish the county's first minimum-security probation home for boys.
The approval came despite protests from some residents in the Springfield area, where the facility would be located, that the home would cause major disruptions in the primarily residential area.
The juvenile court plans to use $194,000 in state and county funds to purchase a house on Shirley Gate Road in Springfield. The house currently is occupied by the Lone Acres Home for the Elderly.
Modeled after a facility for girls in the Centreville area, court officials said the home will provide a highly structured program for 14-to 17-year-old offenders who do not need the contraints of a more secure state facility.
Doors at the home, said court officials, will be locked only at night.
In response to questions about the type of youngsters who will be at the home, juvenile authorities assured the board that only a select group of youngsters would be allowed in the program.
No youngster with severe emotional or drug problems or convicted of a serious crime such as rape or robbery with a weapon will be permitted to participate in the program, court officials said.
Instead, most of the youngsters would be on probation for minor offenses.
These assurances, however, did little to quell the fear of some neighborhood residents that an onslaught of crime would hit the area if the home opens.
"We are concerned about the type of boy that will be placed there," said Shirley Gate resident Donald Carlson. "We work hard to keep our homes and we don't want to come home every night wonder whether someone is inside."
Most of the supervisors said they sympathized with Carlson's concerns but discounted their validity, citing the high proportion of staff supervisors to boys.
Juvenile authorities said no more than 12 boys will live in the home and 11 supervisors will staff the program. Two employes will be on duty at all time, said Joseph Fedeli, director of residential services for the Juvenile Court.
"These boys will be better supervised than most kids in working families. If one of them does run away, the last place they are going to stop is in the surrounding neighborhood," said Centreville Supervisor Martha Pennino.
"They know that every crime committed in the area will be blamed on them," Pennino continued. "They are going to get the heck out of there."
In addition to neighborhood safety, questions were raised about where the present residents, 14 elderly women, would be housed. "If you approve this purchase, you may be solving a problem for some juvenile delinquents, but you are putting 14 old ladies out on the street," Sam McMurray told the board. McMurray's 86-year-old mother-in-law lives at the Lone Acres home.
Board members assured McMurray that they were concerned about the elderly women, but they denied that their action was the sole cause of the residents' displacement.
"We are talking about private property," said board Chairman John F. Herrity. "These people (the owners) want to sell, and as I understand it they are going to get out of the business, regardless of our action."
Juvenile court official Fedeli said his office was working with the owners to find other homes for the women. He indicated that one county retirement home may be able to take about 10 of the women.
"We will give the women as much time as they need to find alternative housing -- two or three months," said Fedeli, who added that he expects the juvenile home to open next March.
The facility will fill a void in county juvenile sentencing alterntives, said Barbara Caputo, member of the Juvenile Court Citizens' Advisory Council.
"The probation house will provide an opportunity for a boy to try to work within firm rules and well-defined programs without being in a secure state facility far from home."