Easy Does It Inc. asks Berks County Court to allow its group home in West Reading

 By Holly Herman hherman@readingeagle.com @HollyJHerman on Twitter

Easy Does It Inc. is appealing a West Reading Zoning Hearing Board decision that prevents it from opening a group home at 333 Sunset Road for those recovering from substance abuse.

Easy Does It Inc. is asking Berks County Court to overturn a West Reading Zoning Hearing Board decision denying the nonprofit’s request to open a group home for recovering substance abusers.

The zoners, in a 2-1 vote Nov. 4, turned down the nonprofit’s request for a special exception to open the group home for eight adults recovering from substance abuse.

Board Chairman Rodney Baer and member Joseph Brennan voted against the request. Vice Chairwoman Denise Drobnick voted for it.

The nonprofit filed its appeal Dec. 3.

In February, Easy Does It purchased a rowhouse at 333 Sunset Road for $164,400 with the hope of opening a group home.

The nonprofit provides recovery treatment at its main clinic at 1300 Hilltop Road, Bern Township.

The group home would be used for those who have already undergone recovery treatment at the main clinic.

Scott Althouse, Easy Does It executive director, said people with disabilities, including individuals in recovery, have rights under federal law that local governments must reasonably accommodate in their land use decisions.

The nonprofit will sell the property if it is unable to use it as a group home, Althouse said.

“It’s sad to learn that in 2020 the good will and progressive views held by the majority of residents of West Reading do not extend to all members of the zoning hearing board,” Althouse said in a prepared statement.

“You would hope that West Reading, where the devastating impact of the opioid epidemic has been felt by almost everyone, would welcome a positive influence of a recovery house,” the statement said.

Easy Does It applied for a special exception that would permit a group home in a medium density residential neighborhood.

Jason Ulrich, zoning board solicitor, concluded in a 10-page opinion that the zoning decision does not violate federal law by discriminating against people with disabilities.

Ulrich said Tuesday that the zoning hearing board is comfortable with its decision.

“We will let the process fight out in the court of common pleas,” he said.

The opinion also stated that Easy Does It did not obtain relevant waivers from the state Department of Labor and Industry regarding fire protection, safety measures, and construction and design standards to accommodate the handicapped.

Althouse said Easy Does It operated a small facility in Reading at Sixth and Walnut streets for decades until June 2019 and had maintained positive relationships with the neighbors.

Althouse said West Reading is the perfect location for a group home because it has excellent access to transportation, shopping and parks.

“Who better than Easy Does It to operate a recovery house in this wonderful community?” Althouse questioned.

In the appeal, Mark H. Koch, a Reading attorney representing Easy Does It, said the zoning board did not conclude that the group home would have a negative impact on the neighborhood.

Koch said the zoners’ decision is unconstitutional.

In September, about 65 residents attended a public hearing via Zoom on the request.

During the hearing, some residents expressed concerns about the potential relapse of the residents and criminal activity.

Althouse said anyone in need of additional help would be taken to Teen Challenge in Rehrersburg to help get back on track.

He said the group home would help fill a void created when Tower Health recently closed its acute treatment facility.

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