STARS saga: Occupancy request receives a unanimous “no”

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The owner of the STARS group home on Park Street is requesting a special use permit to increase the number of girls allowed to live in the home from eight to 12. Neighbors say it's not a good idea, and so does the planning commission. Staff photo The owner of the STARS group home on Park Street is requesting a special use permit to increase the number of girls allowed to live in the home from eight to 12. Neighbors say it’s not a good idea, and so does the planning commission. Staff photo

When the owner of a Park Street group home for at-risk adolescents went before the Board of Architectural Review November 21 to request permission to increase the number of teens allowed to live in the house, the board opted not to make a recommendation.

“It was out of our purview,” says BAR member Carl Schwarz. “There’s no negative effect on the historic district, but it’s not something we could recommend for or against.”

Twenty years ago, Kara Gloeckner started the Structured Therapeutic Adolescent Residential Service program in Charlottesville. Five years in, she moved some of the STARS operation into its current location at 517 Park St., where the organization’s administrative offices are housed and eight girls rest their heads each night.

The home, built in 1984, was originally designed to house 16 mentally disabled adults, says Gloeckner, who interned there at that time. Allowing that many girls to live there would be fulfilling its intended use, she says, and replacing the offices with bedrooms would make for a more home-like environment and alleviate parking stress.

Gloeckner’s original special use permit request doubled the number of girls living there, but after a community meeting at which most residents were adamantly opposed to having 16 troubled teenagers living in the same home in their neighborhood, she asked the City Planning Commission November 14 for permission to house 12.

“With more girls, there is more negative energy for them to feed off of,” local teacher Jennifer Ferguson said before the planning commission. “The proposed expansion is harmful to a group of girls who need undivided, individualized and committed attention even more than the average teenage girl.”

Gloeckner says she’s aware of community concern. When she first asked for the permit in 2001, because neighbors were worried about increasing the number of girls in the home, she says she withdrew the application. “We just felt like time would help them understand what the experience of being our neighbor would be like. Fifteen years later, I feel like we’ve been a really great neighbor.”

Regardless, the planning commission unanimously voted to recommend that City Council deny Gloeckner’s permit.

“I don’t question the intent or the goodwill of the program,” said planning commissioner Corey Clayborne at the meeting. “The part that I’m struggling with is when we’re assessing the impacts, whether it’s parking or whether it’s noise, we’ve heard the public testimonies that have come before us and have read multiple emails and documents, and I’m really struggling to see how this benefits the public necessity.”

Gloeckner will go before City Council with her request later this year.

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