Proposed home stirs debate in Ewing

The Ewing Township Zoning Board’s Oct. 18 meeting was going normally until the board reached the final issue on the agenda.

Life Ties, a non-profit organization that runs group homes in Trenton and Ewing, is planning to open a new facility.

The zoning board determined to schedule a separate meeting on the issue, but the Ewing residents in attendance continued the debate outside the meeting room doors.

Life Ties Inc., a Trenton-based non-profit organization, was founded in 1982 by Mary Inzana, CEO. The mission statement of Life Ties, according to its Web site, is to “provide quality care and services to youth in crisis that are abused, neglected, homeless and/or living with HIV/AIDS.”

Since its founding, the organization has provided services to disadvantaged children and young adults in the Trenton/Ewing area. The organization now runs two 24-hour group homes and a mentoring program.

The town meeting demonstrated that there is a considerable amount of opposition toward expanding the services of Life Ties. Since the day Inzana began to set her plans in motion to start Life Ties in the early ’80s, the idea has been met with resistance that is still present today.

The organization is planning to build another group home on the same property as the Triad House on Pennington Road, which is home to children ages 12-18 who are working to overcome the affects of extended physical and sexual abuse. However, the organization cannot break ground at its location on Pennington Road near I-95 until the Ewing Township Zoning Board approves its proposal.

Approval from the zoning board seems like a minor obstacle, but may turn out to be the only thing stopping the organization from extending its program.

The construction of the PrincetonSouth corporate center on Pennington Road has upset many residents of the neighborhood, and as a result, they have been apprehensive and resistant to accept any further expansion. The addition will not be as significant as PrincetonSouth and will be built on the organization’s existing property.

According to a press release from Opus, the company responsible for PrincetonSouth, “Planned features of the 740,000-square-foot office park include three three-story and three four-story Class A office buildings, a hotel/conference center, four restaurants and a bank branch office with drive-thru window.”

In addition to the zoning issue, the residents of the neighborhood are concerned about problems that they feel could arise because of the institution of the new program.

The program, called Mary’s Place, provides housing for individuals ages 18-21, who have their GED or have graduated high school and are enrolled in a post-secondary institution full-time, working full-time, or a combination of the two. Essentially, the housing project will be home to college students.

The program is already in existence, and those individuals who are a part of it are living dispersed among the Ewing township community. The construction of this living facility will centralize the program and provide a high level of supervision and safety for the residents, according to Elizabeth Borland, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology and member of Life Ties’ Board of Trustees.

Yet, the threat that the neighborhood feels these adults could pose to the community is severe. An alert circulated in the neighborhood says the proposed housing could promote, “increased home break-ins and/or threats to personal safety, and other unimaginable crimes.”

The document also says residents of Mary’s Place, “may distract dangerous gang attention and interest in our neighborhood.”

According to Inzana, nothing of this nature has ever occurred in the history of the organization. Police records from the past year show no related incidents.

Sgt. Gregory Smith, Public Information Officer for the Ewing Police Department, explained that most of the calls fielded because of the Triad House in the span of the past year were the result of a faulty fire alarm system, which was repaired.

There have been no false fire alarms at the house since August of this year.

Other calls dealt with runaways from the house. This includes members leaving the house without permission, to actual runaways.

The severity of missing persons cases, the tragedies that they could lead to and regulations within the organization force the organization to report incidents to the police. The police must treat every case seriously.

In total, there have been 26 police calls in the past year regarding the property, excluding motor vehicle stops conducted by Ewing Township police officers where the property’s address was used as a location reference.

Discounting false fire alarms and runaways, there have been six calls.

Smith said, “If you put away the runaways and (alarm calls), there is very little that’s going on there . (Most of the activity) is just kids being kids.”

Abiding Presence Lutheran Church, located across the street from the Triad House, has been familiar with the residents and staff of Life Ties.

As per a statement issued on Oct. 2, the church said, “We support the efforts of Life Ties Inc. to provide responsive services in order to transform teenagers into productive adult citizens.”

The interest generated at the Oct. 18 zoning board meeting forced the zoning board to reschedule a separate meeting for Nov. 7 at 7:30 p.m.

The organization and the residents of Ewing will be present to voice their concerns about the impending expansion.

“We have several people coming to say words on our behalf and hopefully, the zoning commission will realize that this is in the best interest of the community,” Inzana said. Michelle Lamar of Sterns & Weinroth in Trenton is serving as attorney for the concerned neighbors opposed to the expansion.