During a packed 3-hour-long meeting Thursday night, residents in Middletown Township found out they could do little to stop William Steiner from opening group homes and recovery houses in their Levittown neighborhoods.
Township officials urged they would do everything in their power to make sure the houses are run in a safe and legal matter. Federal fair housing restrictions limit the township’s involvement in who resides in a dwelling.
A man called out during the meeting that he was not against the homes, but he just wanted them regulated.
Residents are upset about Steiner’s desire to open more facilities in the township.
In June, a fire ripped through one of Steiner’s homes in the 300 block of Frosty Hollow Road. It was discovered that an extension cord started the blaze, which displaced the 14 men who were living in the William Levittown built house. At the meeting, residents who live around homes that Steiner owns reported crime problems connected to the residents of Steiner's home.
Resident Jim Jenca presented documents obtained through the township and court records that showed residents of Steiner’s home had several previous encounters with police.
Township officials countered Jenca and stated that many of the incidents did not occur at the group homes but in surrounding municipalities.
Group and recovery homes, like those operated by Steiner, are not required to be inspected by government officials, Middletown’s solicitor Joe Pizzo said.
In the past, Steiner has not volunteered to let township fire marshals to inspect the houses. Group homes operated by other owners often welcome voluntary inspections by the township, officials said.
Steiner, who operates the homes as part of a nonprofit group for people working to recover from addiction, applied to the township to make renovations to a Sweetgum Road house he owns. The renovations would give the single-family dwelling 14 bedrooms, Pizzo and Director of Licenses and Inspections Jim Peet said.
Peet denied the applications. Pizzo said it was denied because the proposed changes exceeded the township zoning ordinance. Plans recently were approved for a five bedrooms at the house.
Bucks County Commissioner and Middletown resident Diane Marseglia said she has talked with Steiner and he was open to the idea of meeting with residents and working on a contract.
Marseglia suggested that Steiner’s desire showed he was trying to be a good neighbor.
Residents said they want to the Steiner-owned homes to follow agreed upon standards and allow for regular inspections from township officials. Some of the suggested standards involved parking, outdoor smoke and living conditions.
By the end of the meeting, Board Chairman Pat Mallon said a meeting between the township, residents and Steiner was in the works.
Pizzo told residents to report any issues at the homes to the township. He said neighbors of the homes have to act as the eyes and ears for the fairly large township, which has about 45,000 residents.
The crowd was told by Peet that the township contained about 25 group homes throughout. The homes are scattered and are for residents with mental and physical disabilities, Pizzo said.
Marseglia said home operators find Lower Bucks County desirable due to low home prices.
Township officials said they would continue to see what can be done to alleviate the concerns of the residents.