Plan Commission denies permit for facility opposed by neighbors even after application is pulled
Plans have been withdrawn for a group home on Hickory Drive in the Village of Fredonia, but that didn’t keep residents from attending a pair of village meetings to underline the fact they do not want such a business in their neighborhood.
Butterflies Home initially applied for a conditional-use permit to operate a group home for up to five troubled teenage girls in a two-story home at 404 Hickory Dr., in the Emerald Hills Estates subdivision.
The application said the Milwaukee company hoped to run the foster home with a staff of up to 12 people providing around-the-clock supervision.
According to village officials, a phone call from the applicant last Wednesday said the plan was being withdrawn, but that did not prevent more than 30 neighbors from attending last Thursday’s Village Board meeting.
The proposal was not on the board’s agenda, but residents used the “comments” section of the meeting schedule to voice their opposition to the proposal.
Most of the same people also attended Monday’s Plan Commission meeting, where a public hearing was held on the conditional-use permit application for the group home.
Village President Don Dohrwardt convened the hearing, but opened the comments by noting that the applicant sent an e-mail to the village last Friday saying they are “no longer interested in operating a group home in your area.”
Village officials never got a chance to question representatives from Butterflies Home face-to-face about their plans, but it was clear neighbors intended to fight the project.
Neighbor Becky Baumann served as one of the group’s spokespersons at the Village Board meeting and presented a petition in opposition to the proposal.
“When we heard about this group home it resulted in a lot of stress in our neighborhood. This is supposed to be a family environment,” Baumann said.
The neighbors said the proposed group home location has been rented on a regular basis to short-term tenants and that the facility would be a commercial operation, both violations of restrictive covenants put into place by the homeowners association.
Enforcement of those rules, Dohrwardt said, are the responsibility of the neighbors, not the village.
However, he said having such rules in place would seem to make the subdivision a poor fit for a group home.
Dohrwardt said the best defense against such projects coming into the neighborhood is for the association to take formal action, including electing officers and keeping meeting minutes that document it is a group in good standing.
In recent years, Dohrwardt said the state has shown an interest in having group residential projects — such as community-based residential facilities — in neighborhood settings.
“Our hands are tied to a great extent as to what we can say no to,” he said.
The only way the village can block such proposals is if they can demonstrate a proposed facility would be inappropriate because of unforeseen risks to the occupants.
Citing those kinds of risks would be valid reason for the village to deny a conditional-use permit, but Village Attorney Robert Feind warned that noting apparent violation of private homeowner covenants “is not something the village wants to dabble in.”
Even with the e-mail confirming the permit application had been withdrawn, Plan Commission members were cautious about what action they could take.
After several attempts at coming up with the correct wording, commission members unanimously voted to deny the permit based on the presumption that Butterflies Home had dropped its request.
“That closes the door. I don’t think you’ll see them back,” Dohrwardt said following the vote.