Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — A proposed youth group home south of Alamosa is getting extra attention from the Alamosa County Commissioners (ACC).
During Wednesday’s ACC public hearing, property owner Andres Montoya and Della Prince, a Costilla County social worker, faced objections from residents and questions from the officials who tabled their special use permit application for Lavender Trails Ranch (LTR), located at 7880 Timothy Lane; a request the Alamosa County Planning Commission (ACPC) approved on June 12.
LTR is a proposed specialized therapeutic center that would provide 24-hour supervision and instruction to male and female youth between the ages of 3 and 18, and possibly up to 21, according to the application. It would be a “family structured center that prepares youth for independence in a home like environment.”
Up to eight at-risk youth could live in the group home at one time.
Concerns over granting the special use permit included the county’s legal obligations to accommodate such a facility; safety, access, water use and placing a group home in a rural area, which is not in the county’s code, forcing the special use permit application process.
There are two major levels governing group homes in Colorado: the Federal Housing Act and Colorado state law. These laws have reduced local government’s ability to regulate certain types of group homes, according to the Alamosa County Land Use special use permit application report. Colorado statutes governing municipalities and counties by law recognize the location of certain types of group homes are a matter of statewide concern, which limits the ability of local governments to regulate state-protected group homes.
The county cannot discriminate against the proposed use of a group home facility, and must evaluate the LTR special use permit application on its land use intentions, not any other use.
“We have to be careful,” said Alamosa County legal counsel Jason T. Kelly about staying on par with the state’s role in dictating a group home’s appropriateness. “This is beyond the scope of what the board is deciding today.”
The concerns Timothy Lane property owners expressed over water use, for example, are a questionable subject.
“Our job is to see what fits in our land use codes,” said ACC Darius Allen. “I don’t think it is our job to regulate water... I appreciate the input on the water. Water is always a concern.”
ACC Michael Yohn, who called the special use permit application “vague” and eventually made a motion to deny the permit that died without a second, said he felt the water use is a concern.
John Genisio, a Timothy Lane property owner for nearly four decades, told the ACC he did not want to see his water supply dwindle anymore, believing the group home would stress the joint well system installed in the neighborhood used to service three domestic sites.
“Our water supply has been reduced,” Genisio said. “We are really connected to one another through these small wells.”
The Division of Water Resources, however, presented in a letter analyzing the situation and did not “have any objection to use of the well” in regards to the LTR special use permit application.
Genisio later stated, “We are here to help one another, not to put people into a situation that is more dangerous.”
This concern was only one of many Genisio brought before the ACC echoed many times throughout the public hearing. He, his wife and neighbors all expressed fear the area was not safe for at-risk youth for reasons including nearby ditches and a pond.
“We are going to have a dead kid on our hands,” said Timothy Lane resident Ben Pacheco. “It is not a good place for the kids.”
In addition, emergency responders could encounter problems on the dead end road.
“They (the youth) have severe needs,” Genisio said. “They will more than likely be the ones that would need emergency care.”
Timothy Lane resident Jean Hensley, a foster parent familiar with the state’s youth placement system, said she was concerned the at-risk youth would jeopardize the neighborhood’s safety.
Alamosa resident Brad Heredia spoke in favor of the LRT special use permit application.
“Safety issues are everywhere,” Heredia said. “I think it’s a good thing... at least you are helping.”
In their own defense, Montoya and Prince, who holds a master’s degree in Behavioral Science and brings years of experience working with Los Angeles youth with her to the Valley, focused on what the group home could offer the area.
“We need to invest in our youth,” said Montoya, who compared the group home to a family of 10 moving onto the eight and one-half acre parcel.
“When our children are in need of placement, we are having to place them in other counties,” Prince added. “...We have the type of population.”
ACC Marianne Dunn questioned Prince’s understanding, and stated Alamosa Youth Tracks, an existing youth placement program, is presently 20 percent vacant.
“The county hasn’t foreseen this,” Dunn said. “We need to.”
The ACC unanimously moved to hold a special public meeting and/or work session with the ACPC before August 14 to further discuss the LTR special use permit application.
“We have a difference of opinion on the board,” Allen said. “We need more clarification.”