MORGAN -- Like it or not -- and judging from a standing room-only city council meeting, most residents fall into the latter category -- a youth group home will be going into a residential neighborhood in Morgan.
In an emotionally charged meeting Tuesday evening, the Morgan council reluctantly, but unanimously, approved a conditional-use permit for Alpha Counseling & Treatment.
ACT wants to open a residential group home for youths with "moderate male behavioral disorder" in a newer subdivision. The six-bedroom home will house up to 12 boys who have Asperger's syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities.
Bob Lynam's home sits next door to the proposed facility. In early April, Morgan city sent a letter to neighbors, explaining that ACT "has applied for a conditional use permit for a residential group home for youth struggling with disorders such as autism, Asperger's syndrome, etc. ..."
"The 'etc.' is what caught my eye," Lynam said. "My concern is the safety of my children, and the bottom line is, I don't believe every child who goes in this home will have Asperger's or autism."
Lynam and others worry the home might bring sex offenders, violence, drugs and other problems into the neighborhood.
"I've got four daughters in my house, ages 12 down to 6, and right now, they have the freedom to ride their scooters and bikes around the neighborhood," he said. "When that group home goes in, that will change."
Lynam said his family chose Morgan because "it's a safe little community."
ACT officials said that's one of the reasons they picked Morgan, too.
"We chose Morgan for a lot of reasons, but one of the big ones is, this is the best place for these clients to be. The location will be good for them," said Mace Warren, clinical director for Alpha Counseling & Treatment.
He said ACT has no intention of bringing dangerous youths to the community -- sex offenders, drug addicts, violent criminals or others. ACT currently has outpatient offices in Ogden and Salt Lake City.
Lynam said he doesn't oppose such facilities in Morgan, but he'd rather see them in zoned commercial areas.
"I'd love to help these boys become better men, but I'm not willing to risk my daughters' safety," he said.
Warren said ACT had always wanted a residential location; they don't want something with an institutional feel to it.
"You can't start creating a prison," he said of larger facilities located in commercial zones. "When residents tell you they're OK with it out on the outskirts of town, then the clients think, 'We're on the outskirts of town, and it feels like we're on the outskirts.' "
Warren said a big part of therapy for these boys is learning to be a part of something bigger.
"We want them to learn to take care of their community, value their community and -- finally -- contribute to their community," he said, and that doesn't happen when you're isolated from that community.
Warren said the house on Derrick Circle was also chosen because they had the opportunity to purchase it from a family member.
That rankles Lynam.
"If that were not Mace Warren's dad's home, this would not even be an issue," he said.
ACT's request for a conditional-use permit was denied by the city's planning commission this past spring. At that time, the commission cited a city ordinance that limits occupancy in any residence to no more than five unrelated individuals.
In appealing the denial, ACT requested a reasonable accommodation to permit up to 12 minors in the home. "Reasonable accommodation" is a term of the Fair Housing Act, and once federal law gets involved, that trumps city ordinances, said City Attorney Gary Crane.
"Under the Fair Housing Act, this is an allowed use, because the individuals in the home are a protected class, and as soon as you start dealing with a protected class, that ups the ante," Crane explained to the council in a work session before Tuesday's council meeting.
Examples of protected classes in U.S. anti-discrimination law are race, color, religion, age, gender and -- as it applies in this case -- disability status.
A visibly frustrated council member, Tony London, asked Crane, "Who's not a protected class?"
"White males, about your age," he responded. "I'm serious. I'm not being facetious."
"Then what good is the ordinance?" London asked.
Said Crane: "The answer to your question is, 'Under the Constitution, your ordinance is worthless.' "
In the city council meeting following the work session, Crane told council members if they were to deny the appeal, there would be a lawsuit, and the city would lose.
"Our job (as city attorneys) is to warn you when you're about to step in a hole," Crane told the council. "Well, you're about to step in a hole."
Shortly thereafter, ACT's appeal of the conditional-use permit was granted, and the council approved a group home agreement with the company.
Following the meeting, London said he feels bad for neighbors, but the council found itself between a rock and a hard place.
"Essentially, to be candid, I didn't want to jeopardize the city or saddle the city with a lawsuit," he said. "It appeared to be a battle we couldn't win."
He wondered what to do "when your heart says one thing and your head says another."
"This is without question one of the toughest -- and certainly the most emotional -- decisions I've ever faced on the city council," London said.
"I didn't want this to become a witch hunt. I understand there's a need (for facilities like this). My only question was, 'In the middle of a residential area?' "
Warren said Alpha Counseling & Treatment is at least three months out -- and probably closer to six to eight months away -- from the first clients being housed there. He's hoping passions will cool by then.
"Based on my experience with residents so far, after all the words we've already offered, I don't think there's anything I could say to make them feel better," Warren said.
He simply asks residents to wait and see, and give the home's occupants a chance to prove themselves good neighbors.
For his part, Lynam waxed philosophical, comparing the dispute to the historical border wars.
"I grew up in Wyoming, and this is no different than the wars over water there," he said. "But no matter what happens tonight, life will go on."