Advocates Praise Proposed Group Home, Opponents Concerned About Neighborhood

Mar 12, 2021

The Snyderville Planning Commission on March 9 approved a Conditional Use Permit for a group home in Highland Estates—after hearing voices that praised the facility, and others that worried about its impacts.

 

Snyderville Chairman Ryan Dickey says they came to a decision, guided by federal law, and they set up a list of conditions to mitigate the operation.

 

The Snyderville Commission granted an approval for a group home along Highland Drive administered by a youth transition program called ROOTs (Retaining Our Original Truth.) 

 

The program’s founder, local licensed social worker Kami Black, said it is designed to help young girls, ages 14 to 18, who are struggling with depression, anxiety or other traumas. It would use an existing 13,000 square foot home site.

 

About 20 people spoke in a public hearing. Both sides were heard from, although a majority of the speakers favored the facility,

 

Among the concerned neighbors, Agnes Apostalakos said ROOTs is a needed and admirable program. But having up to 30 young residents on the site is a big change for what they were told was a residential lot.

 

“It’s so hard for me to believe that we were told that was a single-family dwelling,” Apostalakos said. “And now we’re told, ‘Oh, yeah. You can handle 30 girls, taking showers, dishwashers, laundry, everything that goes on.’ So there’s an incongruency in what we have been told in the past by this body—I don’t think any of you were maybe there at that point. So we got this five years ago. and now we’re being told this is going to happen and this is the right place for it.”

 

But the proposal was praised by industry professionals and past participants in the program. Scott Leventhal called from his home in Connecticut to talk about his own experience.

 

“A couple of years ago, our daughter suffered a violent physical assault,” recalled Leventhal. “We tried to get her the help that we could in Connecticut and surrounding areas. And we wanted the best for our daughter. Every practitioner out here on the East Coast recommended that we would look into a program that was being run by Kami Black, because Kami Black was considered to be the best in this field. Sending our daughter to Utah, 2,000 miles away, was probably the hardest decision that my wife and I ever had to make. Before we took that journey, I vetted Kami Black very thoroughly. And I can tell you, everybody that I spoke to talked extremely well about her, and said that she truly is a leader in this field.”

 

He said his daughter is now doing well in college, and aiming for a degree in social service. Leventhal asked the neighbors to give Black a chance, the way she gave his daughter a chance.

 

The Planning Commission’s OK came with several conditions, including a compliance review after a year, no parking on Highland Drive, no subleasing of the property, and fencing on the south and west sides.

 

Commissioner Ryan Dickey said this kind of application is always tough to decide.

 

“Because the reality is, we need these places, we need these programs, we need a place for teens that have gone through trauma to go and have healing,” Dickey said. And I think everyone in the community recognizes that. The reality is would most citizens of the county, want the single-family home next door turned into a group home with 30 residents and 7 staff at a time? Of course, the answer’s probably ‘no.’ You’d want it to exist, but you don’t want it next door. But the reality of it has to go somewhere.”

 

He said one factor helping to make the decision is the mandates of the Federal Fair Housing Act.

 

“You can’t just say no, you can’t say, ‘I just don’t think it belongs here, because Highland Estates has a lot of other commercial use, and just seems like too much,” Dickey said. “You have to say yes to it. We have a lot of examples of places that have said No to it and been hit with multi-million-dollar fines under Fair Housing—all the way up to Boise County in Idaho declaring bankruptcy over a fine for this exact same issue. So I think you start the hearing by saying, this is allowed. The feedback that, ‘We just don’t like it here.’ is not helpful. Let’s talk about mitigations.”