City Council moves to define, regulate group homes

An ordinance amendment defining standards for group homes, such as the Opportunity Alliance's Project RISE house at 6 State St. in Westbrook, will be discussed at an April 3 public hearing.

WESTBROOK — The City Council will hold a public hearing April 3 to discuss has set two public hearings on April 3 for ordinance amendments.

One of the public hearings will be to discuss group and boarding homes, and the other will be to discuss the terms “special exception” and “conditional use.” Both are proposed amendments to the city’s Land Use Ordinance that have been recommended by the Planning Board.

The ordinance currently doesn’t define group and boarding homes, which has allowed these types of residential housing units to be permitted in the city with no standards to comply with. The Planning Board held workshops to discuss adding definitions on Dec. 6 and Jan. 3. The board held a public hearing on it on Feb. 21, but no members of the public spoke.

The proposed ordinance amendment includes four definitions, including community-based residential facilities, boarding or lodging house, boarding home for sheltered care, and community living arrangement. Each definition includes standards that must be met in order to be approved by the city.

Community-based residential facilities are defined as units in which eight or less unrelated persons are living as they transition back into mainstream life outside of an institution. The definition states that this type of living situation may be referred to as a halfway house.

Recent projects, such as the Transformation Project and Project RISE, which will house young men transitioning out of the Long Creek Youth Development Center, would fall under the definition.

Boarding or lodging houses are defined as dwellings in which no more than four people live and are provided with meals. The occupants must pay the owner of the building, who must also reside there.

Boarding homes for sheltered care are defined as group homes in which the occupants receive shelter, food, and personal care, social services, or transportation. This doesn’t apply to treatment facilities for people with substance use disorders or physically or mentally disabled persons.

Community living arrangements are defined as homes for eight or less people with disabilities. This definition can also include group homes and foster homes.

The second public hearing councilors will have on April 3 will be to change the term “special exception” to “conditional use” in the Land Use Ordinance. A March 1 memo from City Planner Jennie Franceschi to the City Council stated that the term “special exception” has confused the public because it implies that a use is not typically allowed.

The Planning Board has recommended to the council that the phrase “conditional use” be used instead. No standards for review will be changed.

Councilors on Monday also accepted a $15,000 donation to the Police and Fire Departments. The money was donated by the estate of Warren H. Nelson, a Westbrook resident who died on June 22, 2016.

Nelson, who was 95 at the time of his death, left $5,000 to each the Police Department, Fire Department and Emergency Rescue Services. He grew up in South Portland, but settled in Westbrook with his wife Veronica after serving in the military.

Nelson served in the Army Air Corp in World War II, and then after remaining in the Army for some time, joined the National Guard for another 20 years. At Monday’s City Council meeting, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte expressed his gratitude to Nelson, as did the city councilors.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

An ordinance amendment defining standards for group homes, such as the Opportunity Alliance’s Project RISE house at 6 State St. in Westbrook, will be discussed at an April 3 public hearing.