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Couple appeals county’s approval of group home

Saying they’ve been “irreparably harmed,” a couple is going to court to challenge a decision that would allow a group home to be constructed near their house in rural Powell.

Scott and Stefani Hicswa are asking a district court judge to review the Park County Commission’s approval of a special use permit for their neighbor, Julie Forconi.

The Hicswas, represented by the Bonner Law Firm in Cody, filed the appeal in Park County District Court on Sept. 14.

Forconi’s property lies near the intersection of Road 13 and Lane 11H, about 4 miles southwest of Powell. She wants to build a group home for adults who can’t take care of themselves, because of minor intellectual disabilities, autism, traumatic brain injuries, Parkinson’s disease or other issues.

The facility would be home to as many as four people, who would be cared for by at least one staffer at all times — with the potential for more staff if a particular resident needed additional care, Forconi has said.

During the county’s meetings on the proposed group home, the Hicswas and many other area residents opposed the project, citing increased traffic, decreased property values and other concerns that included the potential for the home to one day be used for higher-risk clientele.

The Hicswas are the closest neighbors, with their newly built house located about 150 yards away from the proposed group home.

“We don’t have any problem at all with the clientele that’s being proposed to serve,” Stefani Hicswa, who is the president of Northwest College, said at an August commission meeting. “What we are saying is that we are opposed, and our neighbors are opposed, to the idea of changing the use, of having a special use permit outside of the current use.”

The couple and other neighbors argued that, as a 24/7 business, the group home was out of place among the area’s residential and agricultural properties. In contrast, several parents of disabled children told Park County commissioners the facility should simply be seen as a home for people who need extra help.

In finding Forconi’s group home would be “in harmony” with the area and approving the permit, Park County commissioners said they didn’t see how the impact from the facility would be much different from any other home.

In the Hicswas’ petition, attorney Bethia Kalenak notes the widespread opposition.

“This testimony made it clear that those residing in the neighborhood were opposed to the issuance of this special use permit,” Kalenak wrote.

In their appeal, the Hicswas argue that the commission’s decision was arbitrary, an abuse of discretion, not in accordance with the law, unwarranted, unsupported by the evidence, incomplete and inconsistent with Park County’s rules.

The Hicswas will submit a more detailed brief, outlining their arguments in detail, sometime in the coming weeks.

They’re the second couple to challenge a commission decision in court this year: Richard and Mallie Zickefoose of Crandall are in the process of appealing a March decision, in which commissioners ruled their Beartooth Lodge is in violation of zoning regulations that prohibit motels in that area. The Zickefooses have said they followed the rules and what county staff told them to do.

3 comments

  • posted by Inclusive1

    October 07, 2017 5:06 pm

    Wow. How disturbing that people are attacking a home for disabled adults. The two comments are pretty transparent too

  • posted by John T.

    September 30, 2017 9:04 am

    It's quite disingenuous to imply that the only motivation for opening a group home is a charitable spirit. Ideally selfless people wanting to help would be involved in these facilities, but sadly more often than not they are poorly run with the real motivation being the steady income stream of Medicaid dollars. A house of 4 permanent residents could gross well over $100,000 per year.

  • posted by Linda

    September 29, 2017 9:52 am

    In theory group homes should be havens for disabled individuals, but in practice they often become a way for people to profit from Medcaid, state, and federal payments. And with more and more small 'private homes' the lack of oversight trend seems to be getting worse. I suppose if a neighbor opens a facility there's no guarantee of whether or not it will be run well.

    There's a very enlightening series on problems with Illinois group homes.
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/grouphomes/ct-group-home-investigations-cila-met-20161117-htmlstory.html

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