Council sets public hearing for transitional residences ordinance

In a 4-1 vote Thursday night, council approved scheduling a public hearing for the Transitional Residential Facilities Ordinance on April 20.

Carla Stilson, council vice chairwoman, cast the dissenting vote.

Mark Holdren, Centre Regional Planning Association senior planner, presented the proposed update to the ordinance.

Planning Commission voted 3-2 to recommend approval of the ordinance.

The proposed update adds the definitions of “community corrections facility or center,” “correctional facility” and “halfway house/rehabilitation center.”

Community corrections facilities and correctional facilities would need a 1,000-foot buffer between them and an existing residential area, place of assembly, park, school or day care center, Holdren said. Halfway houses would need a 500-foot buffer.

Stilson suggested perhaps a 750-foot buffer for community corrections facilities and less than 500 feet for halfway houses.

Council Chairman Rich Francke said it’s easier to lighten up than tighten up so he leaned toward being more restrictive with the option of being able to revisit the ordinance in the future.

The resident limits would be 40 for a community corrections facility and 15 for a halfway house, Holdren said.

One of the biggest sticking points with Planning Commission was whether community corrections facilities could be located in an area zoned for commercial or industrial use, he said.

Under the proposed ordinance, those facilities would be relegated to the Rural Residential Zone.

Mark Frailey, of Keystone Correctional Services, asked council to consider allowing community corrections facilities in commercial/industrial zones, because the company is looking to open a facility at 201 Struble Road, which is zoned general industrial.

In addition, the facility would need a capacity of 100 residents to be able to pay the bills, Frailey said.

Men and women who have served their time and are ready to come home can’t because there aren’t enough beds in transitional facilities, he said.

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe said the county’s re-entry coalition would be prepared to work with a transitional facility, whether it be in College Township or elsewhere in the county.

Sarah Rafacz: 814-231-4619, @SarahRafacz