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  • Writer's pictureDave Doll

We are Family

Back in 2019, we lived through the Sober House application for a single-family residence on Stonybrook Drive. It was an unexpected and painful experience, and through a combination of perseverance, community support, and luck we came out on the right side.

One of the keys to that whole series of events was the Township’s antiquated definition of ‘Family’ in the zoning code. While antiquated, it forced the applicant to file a variance request. Had the applicant taken the battle further, the outcome would have been in doubt.

The as-is definition of “Family” reads:

A group of persons living together and related to head of the household by blood, marriage or legal adoption, and, in addition, two gratuitous guests thereof.

I hope we all understand that in modern society, families take on many shapes and sizes. And with Federal regulations and legal decisions, the requirements for a family have morphed. Whether or not you agree, the world (and the law) requires a modern look at a definition of “family”. The old (existing) definition would not hold up in court.

The easy part is knowing that it must change. The hard part is deciding what it should be…

On the agenda for the Oct 18 Board of Supervisors meeting, the Board will review and vote on a long list of zoning code changes:

Among the changes is the proposed definition for “Family”:

Any number of individuals living together on a non-transient basis as a single housekeeping unit with single cooking facilities when said individuals are related by blood marriage or adoption and, in addition, any domestic servants, foster children or gratuitous guests thereof; or a group of not more than five (5) persons who need not be so related and, in addition, domestic servants or gratuitous guests thereof who are living together in a single dwelling and maintaining a common household with single cooking facilities, including occupants that are mentally or physically handicapped persons as defined in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. A roomer, boarder or lodger shall not be considered a member of a “family,” nor shall the definition of “family” apply to the occupants of a club, fraternity house, student housing, lodge or residential club.

There’s a lot to unpack in that text. Several pieces are specific federal requirements, but much of it is “more art than science.” We spoke to the Township solicitor and voiced several concerns with this proposed wording – the limitation at 5 persons, the domestic servants and guests, the single cooking facilities... The Township has decided to move forward as-is.

Discussion will happen at the BoS meeting on October 18, 2022

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