Falls Church officials say they are committed to starting a group home for troubled teen-age girls from Falls Church and Arlington, despite last month's rejection by the Board of Zoning Appeals of a city proposal to start such a program in a residential area at 407 Little Falls St.
The zoning board, responding to neighbors' concerns that a group home would introduce a dangerous element into the community, denied the city a special use permit to operate the home at that site.
Last week, City Council members said they would not appeal the zoning board's decision to prohibit a group home in the empty house currently owned by Shefer Schools Inc. But they directed City Manager Anthony H. Griffin to draw up a plan for Monday's council meeting on how to pursue alternative sites for the home.
"We lost the battle but we do not intend to lose the war," said Mayor Carol W. DeLong, who heads the council. "We feel this is a service we can provide and it is a service that there is a need for in the community."
Several homes for delinquent teen-age boys, but only one for girls, are operated under the control of the juvenile court system in Northern Virginia. The girls home, located in Fairfax County, serves a dozen residents.
Falls Church residents became ineligible for the Fairfax facility on Jan. 1, when Falls Church withdrew from the 19th Judicial Circuit, which includes Fairfax County and Fairfax City, and merged with Arlington in the 17th Judicial Circuit.
Falls Church's delinquent boys are now eligible to enter Arlington's Argus House, a group home for boys. City officials say they want an opportunity to share responsibility in the new partnership by setting up a program to serve 12 girls from both jurisdictions. The teen-agers would be referred to the facility by the juvenile court.
Griffin said he may propose the formation of a committee composed of members of several city boards and commissions to help select possible sites for a group home.
"We don't have that many options," said Griffin, alluding to the city's size -- only two square miles.
Griffin said he believes a group home for troubled teen-agers ideally belongs in a residential area.
"We're trying to keep the teen-ager in the community and keep her life as normal as possible," he said. "We're trying to establish a home -- we're not creating a business."
At the same time, Griffin said he is aware that the city could run into the same problem it did recently if residents of other neighborhoods object to a group home.
"What's been frustrating is that the safety issues just aren't real," said Griffin, referring to the fears expressed by neighbors of the Little Falls Street property.
Griffin said the next best site for a group home would be a location near a residential area.
He said there are a number of possible sites for a home, though none have yet come under formal discussion. Included among those are two locations along Broad Street (Rte. 7) and one along North Washington Street (Rte. 29).
A property at 260 W. Broad St., formerly a cosmetology school, and a property at 200 E. Broad St., a small apartment building, are both for sale, he said.
Griffin said that both facilities would need to be extensively renovated, bringing purchase and remodeling costs in each case to more than $1 million. Griffin said the apartment building sits across the street from a group home for the mentally retarded, a fact that could pose a problem for city officials who say they want to avoid concentrating group homes in a single area.
Griffin said another possible solution would be to build a group home on the former site of the old Madison Elementary School on North Washington Street. The city owns about four acres between North Washington Street and Lawton Street off East Columbia Street. While the rear portion is a park, a one-acre parcel toward the front is undeveloped.