Couple appeals county’s approval of group home

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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.

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