Residents to appeal decision allowing domestic violence shelter in E. Norriton

     Members of the East Norriton Township zoning board voted to allow a women's shelter to occupy the former St. Titus Parish rectory last month. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    Members of the East Norriton Township zoning board voted to allow a women's shelter to occupy the former St. Titus Parish rectory last month. (Laura Benshoff/WHYY)

    After months of heated hearings, East Norriton zoning officials decided Montgomery County’s only domestic violence shelter could move into a former church building in the township.

    Now, a lawyer representing 12 residents near the site says they will appeal the ruling.

    “Our position is that there is no justifiable legal basis” for the approval, said Joe Kuhls, a lawyer who has   represented the residents since August. All 12 have authorized an appeal, and Kuhls is preparing the paperwork to meet a Jan. 15 deadline, he said.

    In the official decision released Dec. 23, the zoning board approved the use “by right,” meaning a variance would not be needed to allow Laurel House to move into buildings on the campus of St. Titus Parish.

    That site is zoned for “institutions for the care of the aged or children,” but not for people in the middle of their lives. Board members argued they had the ability to interpret the law “broadly” and allow the shelter. As a part of the decision, the board imposed 15 conditions on the proposed changes to the site and its use by Laurel House.

    Tina Quinci, senior director of community programs at Laurel House, said it’s not clear if a protracted legal battle would hold up the group’s move.

    “We didn’t expect to move in right away,” she said. “We’re working with our attorney to see what the next step would be.”

    Laurel House is currently located in Norristown, but administrators say a larger location would enable them to house about 30 percent more abuse victims at a given time, for a maximum of 35 women.

    In the months of hearings leading up to the December decision, East Norriton residents testified passionately both for and against allowing the shelter to occupy the location.

    An appeal would land both parties in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.

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