MontCo domestic violence shelter finds silver lining in zoning fight

    Members of the East Norriton Township zoning board consider allowing a women's shelter to occupy the St. Titus Parish rectory in December 2015. In the face of opposition from township residents

    Members of the East Norriton Township zoning board consider allowing a women's shelter to occupy the St. Titus Parish rectory in December 2015. In the face of opposition from township residents

    For more than a year, the only women’s shelter in Montgomery County faced fierce resistance from neighbors over a proposed new location in St. Titus rectory on Keenwood Road in East Norriton. 

    “Our board decided several months ago to withdraw our agreement of sale,” said Tina Quinci, senior director of community programs and supports with Laurel House. “We felt like we weren’t being fair to our donors.” That decision was made in August.

    But the high profile clash with neighbors may have had unexpected upshot for a nonprofit that usually operates discreetly.

    “It was not a great thing with the yellow yard signs,” said Quinci, referring to lawn signs that sprang up near the parish that read “No Laurel House at St. Titus.”

    “But, I think it also let people know that we are still here so more people have really reached out as a result of that as well,” she said.

    A lot more, it turns out.

    Over three months, the shelter received 57 calls and referrals for East Norriton residents, nearly the same number it received from people in that township for the entire previous year. Counting referrals from the police department and from hotline calls where people give their ZIP code, the shelter is on track to triple its East Norriton clients.

    “It makes us even more committed to find the right place,” said Quinci.

    This time around, she said, Laurel House is doing more work upfront to find a welcoming community. The nonprofit had started buying the St. Titus property before approaching East Norriton neighbors, who fought the move first in front of the township zoning board and later in court.

    “Jenny, our senior director of housing and operations, has been trying to do some work with the local townships and the planning commission to see if there is somewhere in this vast county where we could fit in ‘by right,'” said Quinci, meaning, allowed to occupy a building without needing a zoning variance.

    “There is nowhere,” she said.

    In other words, wherever it lands, Laurel House will need supportive neighbors to find a new home.

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