Saturday, April 09, 2005

Capital Academy Case Goes to Court: TheColumns VI

Yesterday, Restorative Programming's Capital Academy had its day in court versus Delanco Township. As I reported here, here, here, here, and here, Capital Academy proposed placing a "group home" for "troubled" teenage boys in a former senior citizens' home. The Columns is a beautiful mansion on the Delaware River, situated in a residential district.
Based on the residential zoning and the existing variances approved for the property, the Joint Land Use Board, supported by most of the township, denied Capital Academy's proposed use. Capital Academy, which currently operates its facility under a state contract, asserted it was a state agency, and thus immune from local zoning laws. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes

Restorative Programming said that because it is licensed by the state, and because the teens it treats are sent by the state, it is essentially an arm of the state and therefore exempt from local land use law.

The Board unanimously disagreed at a public meeting, so Capital Academy appealed to the Superior Court. Judge John A. Sweeney has jurisdiction over the case.
The Camden Courier Post sums up the decision:

Sweeney called any attempt to confer immunity on a private corporation "an unwarranted departure from the immunity doctrine."

"It is not the purpose of the courts to create new law," Sweeney said in announcing what he called one of the most difficult decisions he has been called on to make in recent years.

Sweeney's ruling means the company will have to explore other options if it wants to open a home in Delanco.

Of course, Capital Academy has the option to appeal Judge Sweeney's decision. Their attorney is Paul Josephson, a former assistant state attorney general and political power-player. The Courier Post notes that Josephson

expressed disappointment in Sweeney's decision but noted that "the case isn't over" and said the company will be reviewing its options over the weekend.
One of those options is to find a more appropriate site. Apparently, Capital Academy is a bit schizophrenic on that option. According to the Courier Post,

Asked if the company were pursuing other sites, Josephson suggested that it was but added that its resolve on the Delanco site has not waned.

"The state has a compelling need to find room for a lot of kids," he said. "We are always in the process of looking for other locations. Whether this is a success or a failure, we'll still be looking for other locations."

But the Burlington County Times reports

Josephson declined to comment on whether the agency was looking for an alternative site for the center.
It's apparent that this case is far from over. Delanco landed some good body blows and won rounds 1 and 2, but this is a 12-round championship bout. Our township needs the endurance to outlast a company that is determined to get its way, supported by an experienced political player in its corner. There is very little rest before round 3, as the Inquirer reminds us (emphasis mine):
The company now has several options, including filing an appeal, pursuing other legal arguments, or going back to the Delanco Joint Land Use Board to ask for a zoning variance. A conference with the judge was scheduled for next week.
Stay ready, Delanco.