A special use permit for a youth home at 63rd and Leavenworth Road was sent back to the Planning Commission for more work on a unanimous vote after neighbors protested at the UG Commission meeting Thursday night.
Several neighbors and the Leavenworth Road Association appeared in opposition to the youth home, called Avery’s Village, and they filed a valid protest petition.
“My first concern is quality of life and care for our most vulnerable children in foster care,” said Deniese Davis, a north Welborn neighborhood watch and Leavenworth Road Association member. “It hurts my heart to think of them being warehoused in a 1965 facility that was built as a senior care home. Space requirements for the aging is a lot different than what would be provided for kids ages 5 to 17 years old.”
There is a great community need for this home, the applicants told the commission. There were a large number of people supporting this youth home as well as a large number of people against it at the meeting.
“This came about because I am a foster parent and I don’t have enough room in my house,” Beverly Avery, a foster parent since 2007, told the commission. “When I do day respite for some of the kids, they ask if they can stay and I don’t have enough room for them. I asked my son if he would help me to open up a center for kids so we can try to have as many kids as we could.”
Her son, Fred Avery, told the commission that there are about 7,000 children in need in Kansas, with about 900 kids waiting on the adoption list. There are about 1,400 homeless youth in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district, he said.
“There’s not a lot of places for the kids to go,” Avery said.
One neighbor against the project said a real estate agent told him his property value would decrease about $20,000 if the youth home was approved in his neighborhood. He said the nursing home was not built with adequate security for the children that would be in it.
Another resident who lives near the proposed site said there had been little interaction between the property owners and the community. Also, she said she did not know whether the children to be in the home were children in need of care or juvenile offenders, or both.
Edward Scott, a consultant for the Avery’s Village project, said the purpose of the organization is to create a safe, homelike environment for youth. He said they are planning a one-to-seven ratio of staff to children.
Deon Whitten, a teacher who has worked with foster care children and has coached sports, said he was surprised at the opposition to Avery’s Village.
“These kids live in this community, they reside in this community, at the end of the day we’re going to deal with them, we’re either going to deal with them on the good or bad side,” Whitten said. “How we treat them now is going to dictate our interactions with them in the future.”
Duane Beth, a resident who formerly served 30 years on the police force, said the area was not within the busing area for middle and high school students, and that if the students had to walk to middle school, there were no sidewalks on 63rd Street, and they would have to cross Parallel Parkway. Later, a representative of Avery’s Village said that transportation would be provided for those children who didn’t qualify for school transportation.
Another resident said there was a high number of police and fire calls to another youth home in Kansas City, Kansas, which had less children. Commissioners wanted more research on this and wanted police to verify the number of calls when they sent the application back to the Planning Commission.
Originally the proposal from the Avery’s Village group was to house 35 or more children, with the facility having the capacity to house 70 children. At the Planning Commission meeting, the maximum number was brought down to 50 children, ages 6 to 17, according to the applicants and UG agenda details.
Fred Avery said the plan was to start with a group of 10 to 15 youth at first, and then by the end of the first year, build that number to about 50.
Brad Isnard, a resident, said he questioned the group’s ability to do what so few other groups could do. The average capacity of group homes in Kansas is about 13 children, he said. Even large nonprofit groups can’t keep them operating, he said. When money runs short, they won’t be able to control what the state pays, but can only control expenses, cut staffing, amenities or levels of care, he said.
“Kids are not inventory in a warehouse to be profited from,” he said.
UG commissioners had many questions that they said should be answered at the Planning Commission level. Some questioned whether the for-profit youth home could make it financially on the income that the state would pay for taking care of the youth.
Commissioner Hal Walker said he had no question about the group’s good intentions, but he had not seen anything about its sustainability. “Show me the money,” he said.
The youth home did not submit a business plan to the UG commissioners. Fred Avery of Avery’s Village said they didn’t bring the financial plan but one would be provided to commissioners later.
Commissioner Jane Philbrook said other people in the field have told her that there is a dire need of this sort of facility, and they hope Avery’s Village can do it, but they also don’t know if they can. She said there needs to be better communication between Avery’s Village and the neighbors.
“We need as many proponents that are willing day-by-day to engage our youth,” Commissioner Harold Johnson said. At the same time, he said he hears the voices of the neighbors. He said he would be in favor of continued dialogue to see if they can get their concerns addressed, and find some common ground. There is too much at stake to lose, he said.
“We’re seeing them being murdered, the incarceration numbers are way too high for our community, and we need people and agencies and organizations and families that are going to be willing to engage them and intercept them, particularly at the younger ages, so we can prevent loss of life later on,” he said.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum asked about the 1,400 kids who were listed as homeless here. Mayor Mark Holland said there were 1,400 children listed in the past as homeless under the federal school definition of homelessness, and the community successfully reduced that number to about 800. That does not necessarily include children who are eligible for foster care, he said, although some overlap.
Bynum said she hoped some agreement could be made between the community and the applicant by sending it back to the Planning Commission. She said the building was adjacent to a single-family neighborhood, and that speaks to the “character of the neighborhood” factor considered in zoning.
Also, she said she disagreed with planning staff that found that the proposed property use was compatible with the neighborhood. The difference between a nursing home and a youth home starts with length of stay, she said. The length of stay for children would be an average 60 days, according to the applicant. A lifetime stay at a nursing home and a 60-day stay are two different things, Bynum said.
Also, Bynum asked for clarification if the children involved were foster kids or kids in trouble. She also was concerned about a large number of police and fire calls to another youth home, which was “deeply disturbing” to her, and wanted clarification from law enforcement on it.
While Commissioner Philbrook seconded the motion to send it back to the Planning Commission, she said she expected this group and the neighbors to get together and reach an agreement at the end of the process.
Commissioner Ann Brandau Murguia said the idea is great, but she was concerned with the capacity and also concerned about a for-profit entity that regulates a facility that cares for children.
From what she has heard at the meeting, these are high-risk kids, and these kids need a lot of attention, she said. She said she was concerned that the lack of attention to details that she saw in the plans might fall over into lack of attention to details about the children. At the same time, she said they should be very proud they are stepping up to fix this situation.
“It’s our job, though, to make sure when we make those kinds of decisions, that it’s in the best interests of the children, so we have to make sure there’s a lot of attention to detail and everything’s been thought out, and the agency running an operation like this has the capacity to actually deliver that quality service,” she said.
Commissioner Brian McKiernan asked several questions, including state recommendations for the number of children in a home, qualifications for the staff, referral sources, what is the children’s destination after 60 days, and if there are other foster homes in Kansas City, Kansas.
Scott said there is not a recommended number for children, it is based on the capacity of the building. The state regulates ages, genders, age groups and age differences of oldest youth and staff, he said.
Qualifications of staff is state-regulated and audited, he said. Staff needs to have a high school diploma with a series of trainings, he said. Supervisors and clinical staff members need to be college-educated, and the clinical staff is licensed by the state.
While the average stay may be 60 days, some of the children could in theory stay there until they age out of the facility, if they did not find another placement, he said. If some children need a higher level of care, they send them there.
Fred Avery said Avery’s Village would actually be the subcontractor of a contractor. The state would pay an organization such as KVC or St. Francis, which then would pay Avery’s Village as a subcontractor, he said.
The applicants said there are currently no other large group homes at this level in Kansas City, Kansas.
Formerly a Medicalodge nursing home and before that, Golden Age Lodge, the facility had been a nursing home for 47 years, according to UG information.
The property is zoned as single-family residential, according to UG documents, requiring a special use permit. When the nursing home was built, the property was not in the city, and was under the county rules, according to UG officials.
Avery said renovations have already begun on the interior of the building, and that more renovations to the outside of the building were planned later.
The special use permit will be placed on the Planning Commission agenda on Oct. 9, according to planning officials. It is not certain whether the UG Commission will hear it again before the municipal election in November.
More details of the meeting on Aug. 31 can be seen on a video of the meeting posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Y3YI6og5C8.