Group home attracts some opposition

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At Tuesday’s meeting of the Kalispell City Planning Board, several people opposed the location of a Montana Academy group home for troubled youths in their neighborhood.

Set up in a house at 527 Second Avenue West, it would be the academy’s fourth group home in Kalispell.

The group homes are used to help the transition for privately placed youths from all over the country who are coming out of the licensed academy’s 70-student campus in Lost Prairie.

“We have three on the east side and looked at the west side for this to not cluster them all together, a legitimate concern brought up last time,” said John Santa, a founder and operator of Montana Academy.

But several neighbors voiced opposition to the group home, which would be staffed by Montana Academy and house from five to eight youths, all the same sex, at any one time.

“I don’t want this going next door and I’m hoping you will pay us some respect,” said Norah Korn, a 50-year resident of the neighborhood whose house is across the street.

Mickey Lapp said the group home would be better located in an area zoned for business. “This is one of our oldest neighborhoods, populated in large part by retirees ... Residents I’ve spoken with have great concerns,” she said.

Jo Anne Blake wasn’t concerned.

She said she’s “had some doozy renters” in a neighboring home on Second Avenue West that’s been in the family since 1947. The group home couldn’t be any worse, she said.

“I just don’t think that there’s anything to worry about ... I’m for letting those kids have a chance in our neighborhood.”

Because the academy’s group home would serve eight or fewer people, it falls under a special state law giving it  residential status. That means no special conditions may be placed on a conditional use permit for the facility and the permit cannot be denied.

“Our state Legislature has tied our hands,” Planning Board President John Hinchey said.

A vote to recommend that the Kalispell City Council approve the group home’s permit passed 3-2. It was opposed by vice president Chad Graham and Phil Guiffrida III with two members absent.

Guiffrida said Montana Academy is a reputable business that will provide good oversight of the youth group home.

“But it’s not who runs these kind of homes. It’s a business in a residential zone and I feel the state has overstepped its bounds dictating what any city in the state can do with its zoning,” he said.

Prior to that, the Planning Board voted 5-0 to amend the recommendation to say the academy should have to notify the city every time its annual license is renewed by the state, instead of just once before the permit is issued.

The permit request now goes before the City Council for final consideration.

In other business, the planning board voted to recommend that:

 The City Council approve a conditional use permit for Carol Brannan and Natalie Molter to expand their dance and yoga studio, Noble Dance, in an existing building at 44 Bruyer Way.

 The City Council issue a waiver of right to protest annexation for Michael and Katherine Fraser to connect to a municipal water line on their property at 385 Eastview Drive.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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