By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Auberle gets OK for healing center in the M.O. school building

 

Auberle has been given zoning approval to use the former Mt. Oliver School Building as its Family Healing Center, a residential program for recovering drug addicts to be reunited with their young children.

The Mt. Oliver Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) has given conditional approval for Auberle to operate the Auberle Family Healing Center in the former Mt. Oliver School Building on Hays Avenue.

The Family Healing Center, a one-of-its-kind program in Pennsylvania, is designed to bring together recovering drug addicts and their young children in a residential setting. The 16 apartments currently in the former school building will be renovated into eight apartments along with staff, meeting and training rooms and support facilities.

In the application to the borough's Zoning Hearing Board, Auberle requested a Special Exception to operate a group care facility in a C-1 District. Under the Borough Code, a group care facility is permitted as a Special Exception in the district.

Auberle had also requested several variances in order to meet the Code requirements for a group care facility: Setback and height variances for the existing building and a parking variance reducing the number of on-site parking spaces from 13 to 10 to allow for a handicapped parking space. In the application, Auberle offered to rent additional off-site parking space if required.


The ZHB noted Auberle will secure the building 24-hours a day; only families, not individuals will be admitted to the program; walk-ups will not be permitted; no persons in recovery will be permitted to leave the building unescorted by a staff person; rehabilitation classes will be taught on-site; and, child play and recreational areas will be developed in the interior of the building.

Auberle will not be changing the exterior of the former school building except to replace the roof on the building. At the ZHB hearing on February 12 at the Mt. Oliver Fire Hall the organization presented an Overflow Parking Agreement with the Mt. Oliver Elderly Apartments, Inc., which would provide up to five additional off-site parking spaces if needed.

It was noted that those people in recovery in the program weren't permitted to leave the building unescorted and would travel in a staff member's vehicle if needed. It was anticipated staff requirements for parking would be between four and eight spaces.

At the hearing, Auberle officials testified there would be some exterior landscaping on the premises. Following the hearing they provided information on how they would provide adequate open space opportunities on the lot for resident participants, consistent with their needs, and secured with a fence and self-latching gate.


The ZHB noted Auberle is "prepared to enclose outdoor space along Hays Avenue in the setback area between the original structure and the addition that can act as the required open space. Such a space would be created with sufficient space as deemed adequate by the Tenant (Auberle) for residents, consistent with their needs and would be secured with fencing with a latching gate."

As to the dimensional variances requested by Auberle, the Hearing Board said the history of the structures indicate the setback and height restrictions applicable under the current Code "would be near impossible to meet now."

The Special Exception for use as a group care facility was granted under the condition that Auberle remain the tenant and operator of the facility. There cannot be a change in the licensed operator of the facility or a change in the services provided without additional review by the Mt. Oliver ZHB.

"The demonstrated ability of Auberle to keep its facility safe and secure 24-hours a day is at the core of this grant," the ZHB stated. The Board found that Auberle's described 24-hour security and monitoring for the group care facility will not endanger the public health, safety or welfare, nor will it deteriorate the environment when located on the proposed site.


An additional requirement is that plans for interior and exterior renovations of the building and lot must be presented to the Mt. Oliver Fire and Police departments prior to construction to insure their input is considered to make entry/exit of safety personnel, if needed, as smooth as possible.

The Board also required the construction of the fenced and latched outdoor area presented post-hearing.

The three variances, set-back, height and parking were also granted.

The ZHB said of the set-back request, "the property has existed in its present state for many years. To make the property comply with the present Code requirements would create an unnecessary hardship not of the applicant's making.

"Those variances will have no effect on the public health. Nor will those variances change the character of the neighborhood."

The Board echoed the set-back decision in applying it to the height variance. "In no way is (Auberle) changing the height in order to create the necessity for a variance...the exterior of the building is remaining exactly the same."

The parking variance was also granted under the condition Auberle maintain its off-site parking contract with Mt. Oliver Elderly Apartments, Inc.

 

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