Tuesday, November 07, 2000

Teen home disputes fire-code citations

Harveysburg youth program files appeal

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HARVEYSBURG — A program housing troubled teens in this Warren County village has appealed citations issued by the state fire marshal as village officials prepare additional legal action.

        “I'm at the point where I just want to close this thing down,” the Rev. Bobby Torres, founder of Teen Reach, said Monday. “I'm way too busy to hassle with a bunch of ungrateful people when we're trying to save their kids.”

        The fire marshal found in early October that Teen Reach was improperly operating in a single-family residence and lacked emergency lighting, exit signs, smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

        “Our contention is that we are not a licensed group home, so we don't have to follow the code,” Mr. Torres said. “Once we win, we're going to do all of those things. We want to exceed state requirements.”

        The state Board of Building Appeals will hold a hear ing Dec. 8 to decide whether to uphold the citations or issue a variance, spokesman Thomas Ratcliff said.

Teen Reach, a religious-based program that also has homes in Arizona, California and Michigan, moved into Harveysburg this spring. The Rev. Torre has said the house in dispute, on Loraine Avenue, holds five teens and at least four supervisors.

        The fire marshal's office, however, said 14 unrelated teen-agers are living at the home, built and owned by local developer Paul Brothers.

        Teen Reach also is under investigation by the state Department of Education for lacking a charter to run a private school, and the Department of Job and Family Services, for lacking a license to run a group home.

        “They need to be licensed. They have been told they need to be licensed,” said Jane Haller, a spokeswoman for family services. “There's no exemption in our licensing rules for religious organizations.”

        Said the Rev. Mr. Torres: “Why don't they shut us down then? They're lying. ... This is a violation of our Christianity.”

        Ms. Haller said the agency is exploring its legal options to enforce the state regulations.

        Meanwhile, Pat Long, Harveysburg's solicitor, said Monday he is preparing a complaint asking the Warren County Common Pleas Court to rule on some of the concerns over Teen Reach, in cluding:

        • Whether it is a group home.

        • Whether the Loraine Avenue house has a valid occupancy permit.

        • Whether Teen Reach's use of the house is permitted by village zoning laws.

        The proposed complaint will be brought to Village Council, Mr. Long said. Council's next meeting is Monday.

        Also, Harveysburg residents intend to take concerns about additional construction for Teen Reach housing to the Warren County commissioners this week.

        Residents have noticed building materials at a graded site on Maple Avenue owned by Mr. Brothers, although he lacks sewer or building permits.

        Mr. Brothers and Mr. Torres have said they plan to build a church/school and 21 houses — which would house 105 teens plus supervisors — off Maple.

        Residents meet with commissioners at 5:15 p.m. Thursday at 320 E. Silver St., Lebanon.


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