GREENCASTLE — A plan to open a residential Christian school for at-risk girls off Angle Road in Antrim Township is a go. Antrim Township Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve the conditional use plan for the proposed Monarch's Way.
Carissa Martin submitted a plan earlier this year to open Monarch's Way in the 6,300-square-foot brick home, previously owned by the late Raymond Wishard, in the Village of Kauffman.
The stately home overlooking Interstate 81 has been a subject of curiosity for the past 13 years as it sat vacant.
Martin's plan is to open an at-will, year-round school for girls age 11 to 17 who struggle with issues such as eating disorders, self-harm, sexual abuse, addictions, depression and unplanned pregnancies.
The residential treatment program would provide training in academics, life skills and counseling and coaching.
The school would be managed by a married couple who serve as "houseparents" by modeling healthy family relationships while incorporating Christian virtues in all aspects of daily living.
Martin hopes to open with eight girls in August and grow to as many as 20 girls.
The property is zoned agricultural. Schools are permitted in that district, but as a conditional use requiring special approval by the board.
Earlier this month, the township's Planning Commission recommended approval of the conditional use after a nearly three-hour public hearing where about 60 residents turned out to share their impassioned thoughts on the idea.
None of the residents spoke in opposition of the idea of the program, but many were not in favor of the location, citing problems with the existing alternative education facility, originally known as Manito, in the former Browns Mill School, adjacent to the property.
According to township officials, the conditional use approval hinged on whether or not the program can be defined as a school.
"When deciding on a conditional use, [the Board of Supervisors] are not permitted to do whatever we want," said Chairman Chad Murray. "We are to act judicially and must decide like a judge does."
Murray said the board had to decide if Monarch's Way constitutes a school. He said the township has no definition of a school in its code book, so the board had to turn to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for a definition.
"In applying the fact to the law, we have decided Monarch's Way is, in fact, a school," Murray said.
Next, Murray said, the board has to weigh whether the school would adversely impact public interest.
"We decided it will not adversely impact," he said.
However, the board opted to impose 11 conditions to the plan approval:It can serve no more than 20 students. All students must be female under age 18. Students must be under adult supervision at all times. There must be one staff per eight students. No student vehicles are permitted onsite and no student parking. Students will be at-will participants. The school must be accredited and registered with the state Department of Education. Operators must comply with local, state and building codes. Lighting should be shielded from the adjacent properties. Proper screening per township code The first 10 conditions apply to future owners if the property continues being used as a school.
The board voted 3-2 to approve the use. Supervisors Pat Heraty and Fred Young III voted against the conditional use. The board's decision on the conditional use can be appealed to the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
"To be clear ... there was a lot of passion on both sides of the issue. It seemed like everybody who testified was in favor of Monarch's Way. The issue was location," Young said after the vote. "I think it's a needed program. I implore you to be respectful of the neighborhood and respect the neighbors on your own accord as a neighbor and enact some of their ideas."
"I'm glad y'all got it approved. Hopefully, we don't have any issues," said Bob Smith, a member of the planning commission who lives next door to the property and had raised concerns. "The only thing I want is a fence between the two properties. I'm here to be a good neighbor."