Johnstown Planning & Zoning Commission members agreed with zoning inspector Jim Blair: The Northview Senior Living Center violated its conditional-use permit by accepting patients with developmental disabilities.
Commission members voted 4-0 on Sept. 19 to uphold Blair's opinion. Commission chair Marvin Block abstained.
Northview, which Zandex Health Care owns, was granted a conditional-use permit in 1988 to expand its facility as a nursing home. After learning that the senior center had begun to accept patients with developmental disabilities, Blair sent a letter to Northview on June 25, stating that accepting patients with developmental disabilities violates the permit. Northview appealed the village's order during a hearing Aug. 15 at the village council chambers.
During the hearing, residents and those with elderly relatives living at the facility expressed their concerns that the facility was unprepared to handle patients with behavioral challenges and that those patients could pose a safety threat to elderly Northview residents and to children who live near the facility.
Johnstown Village Manager Jim Lenner expressed concerns about a possible repeat of an incident in April, when a man facing assault and attempted-murder charges escaped from the Heath Nursing Care Center. He eluded police for 17 hours before being apprehended.
"Zandex is very disappointed with the decision of the zoning council," Zandex president Douglas Ramsay said in a press release. "Zandex and Northview have been an integral part of the Johnstown community for many years, providing jobs and nursing care for the residents of this community."
Ramsay said he still believes the village's position is contrary to state law.
"We believe that the law is very clear that Northview cannot be ordered to discriminate against individuals with disabilities and that local zoning ordinances cannot regulate the type of care and services to be provided in a nursing home," he said. "We intend to meet with our attorney to discuss our future course of action regarding this decision."
Lenner said Zandex may appeal the commission's decision to Licking County Common Pleas Court.
Ramsay said he doesn't believe the commission members understand a health-care center like Northview's complexity.
"We're trying to be very compliant with every rule and regulation that applies to the center and the community," he said.
Johnstown Mayor Sean Staneart said his focus is on the community's safety.
"The main concern is the safety of the people of the village," said Staneart, who also serves on the commission.
He said it was "kind of a shock" to learn that Northview had been caring for patients with behavioral challenges for years.
Staneart said the village would help Northview address relocation of its behaviorally challenged patients at the appropriate time.
"The village will work on a course of action," he said. "We'll try to work with (Northview) as much as possible."
Staneart added that commission members are highly in favor of Northview's care for the elderly and that they hope the facility continues its services in that direction.