Bel Air Residents Speak Out Against Group Homes
Four members of the community spoke at Monday's town hall meeting about the issue.
Group homes have become a sore point in the Town of Bel Air over the years, and four residents relayed their concerns to town officials during Monday's board of commissioners meeting.
Bob Cassilly, former mayor of Bel Air and county councilman, said there are six group homes, or rehabilitation homes, within a block of his Bel Air home and a proposal for seventh.
“You don’t establish a solid community with seven group homes within an eight block radius,” Cassilly, who lives on East Broadway, said.
He and three other members of the community went before the board Monday to urge the board to do something about density issues and not approve the seventh home.
"It’s a small town, you live next to your neighbors and you need those connections,” Cassilly said.
He explained that sense of community fostered in Bel Air is an important dynamic to preserve, and group homes are businesses that should not be clustered in one place.
"I think it’s very unfair for the people living in the area," Gail Sullivan said of the growing number of group homes near her home on Franklin Street.
Rob Hruz echoed Cassilly and Sullivan’s comments.
"Things are getting ugly where we live, rapidly, and I mean ugly in a sense of community," Hruz said.
Hruz said he and his wife planned to move to East Broadway knowing there were three group homes in the area. Before they moved in, however, two more group homes were established in the neighborhood.
Hruz said he feels his neighborhood is growing closer to a 50/50 split between inpatient residents and homeowners, later adding, "what good does it do even for them if the community does not look like a community."
Hruz said something has to be done with dignity and compassion in mind, taking into account the real struggles many in the group homes are facing, some of whom he has befriended over the years.
The town encouraged the Harford County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to pass a bill to control the density of group homes in 2010, according to an ExploreHarford.com report.
That same report states legislators were warned by the Attorney General's office that establishing zoning standards for the homes would be illegal.
Deborah Cassilly said she recognizes there is legal protection of group homes, however, she said she feels the law should at least be ammended to address density concerns.
She said the issue is important to more than just those present at Monday's meeting and told the board to expect to hear more from the community on the topic.
Mayor Edward Hopkins said Hruz’s comments, and the comments of others, did not fall on deaf ears and the town continues to look into the issue.
Commissioner Robert Preston said the issue of group homes has been one of the most frustrating to him over the years because federal laws protect them.
“We do talk with our state legislators and I think that’s the way we need to go,” Preston said.
What are your thoughts on group homes? Do you feel there are too many or too few in town? Tell us in the comments.