With a favorable vote at Swarthmore Borough Hall on Tuesday night, the Headstrong Foundation moved closer to its goal of establishing a residential home called “Nick’s House” for cancer patients and their families at 200 South Chester Road.
Swarthmore’s Accommodation Request Review Board voted to approve an accommodation under the Fair Housing Act, which would permit the Foundation to make use of the property as a residence for up to 14 patients and family members. The property is zoned RB, which permits residential use only with no more than 3 unrelated persons living together.
“It’s one step in the right direction,” said Cheryl Colleluori, Headstrong Foundation president, seemingly relieved as she greeted supporters following the hearing. A packed Council Room rang with applause following the vote and adjournment of the hearing.
However, in addition to several statements of support for the planned use, a group of six neighbors were called to speak by Media attorney James J. Byrne, Jr., presenting arguments against the use of the 200 S. Chester Road property for the residence.
These arguments suggested unsuitability of the house for this use on aesthetic and practical grounds, potential erosion of adjacent property values, incompatibility with the “family” character of the neighborhood, aggravated parking problems and traffic hazards, fire safety and child safety concerns, lost school tax revenue, increased demands on school district resources, questions about the Foundation’s ability to fund its enterprise, and fear of setting a precedent that would lead to further requests for accommodations or zoning changes.
“I didn’t hear anything tonight that we hadn’t heard before,” Colleluori said, indicating that her group had tried to understand and address community concerns. “I willingly met with the neighbors before I knew they had hired a lawyer.”
Headstrong’s attorney, Christine Reuther of Wallingford, introduced Dr. Stephen Schuster of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, who described the typical needs of families during advanced cancer treatments and the benefits of family living during treatment. “A good supportive environment; being with family, these are important to the health of the patient.” Headstrong board member David Calvaresi spoke from a father’s perspective of the hardships which can face families when the cancer care they need is far away, and how Headstrong can alleviate many of these.
The board, comprised of the members of the Swarthmore Planning Commission, voted 7-1 in favor of the accommodation, with Steve Minton opposing and chair Jon Penders recusing himself from the process due to the potential for conflict of interest. Vice chair Chris De Bruyn ran the meeting in Penders’s absence.
Headstrong has many more steps to take before the dream of its second “Nick’s House” is realized. There may be an appeal filed of the Board’s decision, which would be heard by Borough Council. The Foundation will need to fulfill six specific conditions (including, in response to board and public concerns, the development of a parking plan to be approved for the residence, as well as conditions stipulated earlier). And, the foundation has to buy the house, plan, design and execute improvements, and raise funds to support the long-sought expansion of its hospitality mission.