Carmel BZA narrowly approves exception for group home in Woodland Springs

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The Carmel Board of Zoning Appeals on Jan. 23 narrowly approved a special exception to allow a group home on Horseshoe Lane in the Woodland Springs neighborhood.

The home, which is undergoing interior renovations but no significant exterior changes, will house eight seniors with disabilities. Two caretakers will be on-site during the day, and one will be on duty overnight, but they will not live on-site.

“Our proposal will give Carmel residents the option to live within the neighborhood setting to which they are accustomed and which they desire,” said Jennifer Piccione, who purchased the home with two business partners.

The 3-2 vote came after an hour of discussion that grew contentious at times. After three nearby residents urged the BZA to deny the exception because they didn’t feel the location was appropriate for a group home, Sarah Jane Hunt, an attorney speaking on behalf of Piccione, drew disapproval from much of the audience after she compared the remonstrators’ feedback to past instances of racial discrimination.

“The not-in-my-backyard mentality is what kept our neighborhoods segregated for decades,” she said, noting that federal law ensures people with disabilities have housing options and aren’t forced to move into an institution.

BZA members Leo Dierckman, who became board president earlier in the meeting, and Alan Potasnik voted against granting the exception.

Dierckman said it was the petitioners’ own claims about the project that convinced him to vote against it. He took issue with their statement that eight people most recently lived in the home after two neighbors said that wasn’t the case. He also said their attempts to compare the group home to Story Cottage – a group home for memory-impaired seniors in east Carmel – demonstrated possible shortcomings with the Horseshoe Lane plan rather than supported it.

“Your arguments in your findings of fact don’t jive with the way you want us to rule,” Dierckman said. “In fact, they argue against your request.”

Board members James Hawkins, Brad Grabow and Leah York, a new BZA appointment participating in her first meeting, voted to grant the exception.

“(Group homes) blend into the community,” Hawkins said. “It’s a trend that’s going to give seniors an alternative place to live. It’s probably a bit newer to our community, but it is out there, and it has been prominent in the Midwest for quite a while.”

The exception will be valid for five years and must come before the BZA to be renewed.

The state of Indiana considers group homes to be residences, not commercial properties, even if they are owned by a for-profit business. The Americans with Disabilities Act provides federal protection for group homes, and local governments are limited in how they can regulate them.

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