Photo By D. BRIAN BURGHART Hunter Lake School has become an issue in the city permitting for a group home for teens.

At a May 23 hearing, the members of the Reno City Council heard nearly two hours of public comment on a group home for troubled teens before moving to delay permits until the Council can revisit the issue early this month.

The issue may be settled then, or it may hang on for while, in which case candidates for the Council will become more engaged with it.

Southwest Reno residents aired a laundry list of concerns over the residential drug treatment facility, and they dominated the extended discussion with criticism of everything from congestion to zoning violations.

Most, however, focused on the group home’s proximity to schools and public parks. One resident recounted a friend’s experiences with drug-motivated burglaries. Another urged the Council’s caution by suggesting that the proposed location was infested with mold. No less than three residents cited the fact that the neighborhood already has a group home just down the block.

“No one is for this group home,” claimed Hunter Lake Elementary teacher Susan Daly. “My concern is the location alone. It’s illogical. It’s impractical. It’s a ridiculous crock of cranberries what they want to do with that house.”

Reno-based Quest Counseling had hoped to open the home sometime this month. Quest executive director Denise Everett said it would be the only facility of its kind in Washoe County and the first to offer youth rehabilitation services in the area since economic difficulties forced the closure of a Sun Valley-based facility in 2009.

“We have absolutely no intention of accepting kids that have a history of violence or that are strongly gang-affiliated,” Everett said. “We really want to focus on kids that have made a series of bad decisions but have a motivation for recovery.”

Group therapy and individual counseling are the major components of the group home’s three-to-four month treatment program. Quest plans to offer up to 10 beds for teens struggling with drugs, alcohol or mental health issues, but once there, they will “do what other kids do.” They’ll eat, sleep and watch TV. They’ll have access to cooking lessons and a garden in the back.

Everett said fears over drug dealing, congestion and neighborhood parking are exaggerated. She hastens to say that no resident—regardless of probationary or parole status—will be allowed to leave the premises unsupervised.

“The kids are going to be supervised 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Everett said, adding that residents will be bused to outpatient therapy on a managed basis, but that they will not be allowed to have cars or to leave the building. “And they’ll have no money. It’ll be the last place a drug dealer wants to go. … Our kids are not going to be wandering around the neighborhood.”

Everett also quoted Reno Police Deputy Chief Mike Whan, who told a neighborhood meeting either this month that the opening of similar facilities in other parts of Reno had either no impact or a “very limited” impact on call volume.

Ashton Caselli, who lives within blocks of the proposed location, told councilmembers that this was not a typical NIMBY (not in my backyard) issue. For him, group homes and other drug rehabilitation centers “don’t belong in any school’s backyard.”

In the two months since the group home was first announced, Caselli has promoted efforts to—as he puts it—keep “drug dealers and other criminals” out of his neighborhood. He’s led demonstrations, circulated petitions and has a blog on efforts to stymie the facility.

“These are kids that are already delinquent defenders,” Caselli said, “If these kids want a chance at success they cannot be at the heart of a community where they have distractions, where they have the ability to reoffend and for people to offend them. … These kids are moving into a hostile neighborhood. This is not a neighborhood that’s welcoming them with open arms.”

Councilmember Dan Gustin was in attendance at the Council meeting on the home. The proposed facility would be in his Ward One. Gustin is not running for reelection and the decision may be made before his successor is elected. Candidates seeking to replace him are reluctant to second guess Gustin or other sitting members of the Council who have had the opportunity to hear a fuller range of evidence.

Candidate Troy Harsh said that while he’s “glad the outcry is there by the citizens,” he hopes the Council will “look at both sides of the issue and act appropriately.” He also said that so far he’s heard only the residents’ views.

“I don’t know the side of Quest. … I do believe every legal business has a right to thrive or fail in Reno, and they are certainly filling an important niche. The important decision is where do such businesses go and how can we fill both needs?”

Candidate Jenny Brekhus also said she has not had full exposure to the details of the home. “Having said that, I have familiarity with the licensing and zoning approval of group homes. Nevada Revised Statutes preempts local authority in some respects in this area. In addition, there is case law … [I]n many of these instances cities do not have discretion to decide whether or not a certain residential use should be allowed. It rises to the level of a constitutional right. So the challenge for a community is to develop a land use and zoning framework that works within the parameters of local authority preemption to prevent land use conflict and preserve neighborhood quality of life.”

Other candidates did not respond or were unavailable.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...